When I think back to my childhood, I realize that I didn’t do a lot in the summer. I rode my bike through the Kanawha City streets (but never across MacCorkle Avenue), bought Slush Puppies at a 7-11 convenient store, ran through a sprinkler hooked to the garden hose in the front yard, and I watched HBO after my parents went to bed. One day rolled into the next, set to the labored hum of a large window-unit air conditioner that was bought from Sears and Roebuck (yes, both of them).
Some years, we took a vacation to Wrightsville Beach, N.C. or Williamsburg, Va. Some years we couldn’t.
But never, ever did I go to camp.
And I sort of wish I had.
Last summer, as I lounged by the pool half-watching my girls cannonball off the diving board, I became engrossed in an article in Town & Country magazine. The writer reflected on his summers at camp — an exclusive, preppy, hard-to-get-into-and-even-harder-to-pay-for place tucked away in the forests of “old” New England. This sleep-away camp was the place where mosquitoes bit but fish didn’t, canoes capsized but nobody drowned, and hearts ached for home. For a little while, that is.
The writer still believes that camp is a rite of passage in childhood; a necessary “roughing it” that removes some of the shelter in kids’ lives — physically and emotionally. Back then, going off to camp (for at least three weeks) was a way to connect with the world. Today, it’s a way of making kids unplug from it.
The article romanticized camp in a way that made me actually look into places for my daughters, ages 11 and 8. I follow a few camps for girls on Facebook and through images posted on Instagram and Pinterest — all of which make the experience look downright enchanting.
Ava doesn’t see it that way.
“WHAT? No walls?!” she exclaimed, as she leaned over my shoulder to study a large tent with its flaps peeled back to reveal giggly girls sitting on cots.
“What if it rains?!” she exclaimed.
You pull the flaps down, I guess.
“And bugs! Bears! No, Mama. NO,” Ava declared, stepping back from the computer as if it had malaria. Her idea of camping is a cottage overlooking The Old White golf course at The Greenbrier.
Maryn, our youngest, took her sister’s spot over my shoulder.
“Cool!” she said. “You get to sleep outside?”
Yes. For a month.
“Hmmm…” she pondered. “How far away is it?”
You’d go to camp? I asked, shocked. Maryn is our explorer, but she’s also the one who will sit and hold my hand when I’m bedridden in a nursing home.
It’s about two hours from here. You’d like to do that?
“Maybe….” she said.
Well, let’s throw this little fish back in the water, I thought to myself.
Tomorrow (which will be “this morning” once the blog is published), Maryn will attend Fun With Words: A Young Writers Camp sponsored by the Central West Virginia Writing Project, a program overseen by Marshall University. No, she won’t sleep in a tent (or a dorm), and no, she won’t be in the next state. But, she will be gone during the day and she won’t have her sister sitting right next to her. She’s going off by herself, and I have to admit, I’m a little nervous.
Before I get ahead of myself, Maryn asked to attend camp. I didn’t sign her up for the sake of doing so. She loves the arts, so this seemed like a good fit for her. But, I’d be wrong if I hid an underlying motive for paying the rather steep tuition fee.
I wanted Ava, who will be starting middle school in about a month, to watch her little sister walk into a new environment without any familiar faces for comfort. It also takes some motivation to try new things, especially when they aren’t necessary or required.
My girl isn’t going to be sitting at the edge of Walden Pond penning the next great American novel. Or, maybe she will — just not beside a bubbling brook. And, she won’t be writing letters home detailing songs sung in unison around a fire, or merit badges won during archery contests or at the conclusion of wilderness survival tests (thank God). But, she might write a story about meeting new friends and having new types of fun. It may not be Lake Ossippe backdropped by the White Mountains of New Hampshire, but it will be an adventure … for all of us.