As I was driving around and dodging potholes this week, I couldn’t help but notice a big sign announcing “summer camp registration”. I don’t know for sure if the flashbacks I was getting were just my life flashing before my eyes given the massive holes in the street left behind from Old Man Winter or the warm memories of day camps I attended as a child.
But there is something about the mention of camp that has of those songs running through my head like a freight train again (40 years later) like the one about the littlest worm that got stuck inside my soda straw or poor Charley who never returned.
I think to myself that I was very lucky that my parents made me… I mean… offered me the opportunity to go as many times as I did.
The truth is, I was at that strange age: too young for a job and too old for day care. Frankly, if left to my own devices, I probably would have been stuck in the 1970’s version of “screen time”: park myself in front of the TV and watch game shows all day for the entire summer. And for this little guy who shopped in the “husky” department, getting out in the fresh air, sunshine and actively mixing with kids my own age was definitely better for me in the long run.
The attached picture is one of the rare pieces of evidence of me ever setting foot in a tent. Even from a young age, roughing it was not my thing, so shipping me off to an “away” camp in the woods, would have required significant bribery. My mom signed me up for the next best thing: day camp.
Most of the camps I attended lasted two weeks, just long enough to give my parents a break from tearing me away from The Price is Right, and not so long that I felt it encroaching on my unstructured play time. As an only child, I had a strong sense of boundaries where that was concerned.
As much as the first days were filled with apprehension and butterflies, not unlike the first day of school, campers had to get into the groove quickly because it was over before they knew it.
My first ones were camps involving getting on a bus and heading to some distant green spaces. I would pack my Archie and Bugs Bunny comics into my little knapsack to read along the way, as well as a classic PB and J lunch, my bathing suit and towel, a rain poncho just in case and an ample supply of bug repellent.
Once there, I forgot any of the apprehensions I had, while mixing and mingling with other kids who were looking for something fun to do over the summer. Our camp counselors were fantastic in keeping us thoroughly entertained with arts & crafts, treasure hunts, outdoor games, putting on plays, and whatever happened to be the local thing to do.
In my first day camp, I went fishing for the first (and only) time and caught a very respectable sized fish. In my second day camp, I learned basic woodsy skills… nothing that would earn me a spot on Survivor, but at least I wouldn’t die if I wandered too far from an outlet mall in adult life.
My readers may be shocked to hear this, but I also attended sports camp… TWICE! The day camp was organized at a sports complex in my part of town, and it was so well done, that even I had fun and enjoyed sports …for two weeks. We did everything: track and field, softball, soccer, and when it was raining we stayed inside for crash courses in wrestling, swimming, gymnastics and disco dancing (well, it WAS the 70’s!)
As an added bonus, because these new friends had no clue about my lack of natural coordination, my social skills ensured I never got picked last for sports teams. It was great, but by the end of the two weeks the jig was up, they knew I sucked at sports, but that was OK, it was over by then.
In the summer of ’77, I attended an all-summer day camp that was crazy fun, taking us throughout the city and surrounding area to cultural and tourist attractions every single day. The day camp took us to all of the museums, festivals, historic sites, kids’ events and every Friday, all of the activities revolved about learning about other cultures. It was a brilliantly curated program that I still appreciate today. Plus, we had a weekly newsletter where campers contributed drawings and articles about what we saw. Guess who helped with that activity? Shocking, I know!
I do remember some (…most!) day camp sessions concluding with me in tears over the fact that it was over and that these fleeting friendships would come to an end. Despite my initial apprehensions, the day camp experience couldn’t have been that bad if its conclusion tugged on my heartstrings so strongly.
Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the camps I attended, the camp choices I see today are seemingly endless, and appealing to every possible interest, hobby or sport that kids could enjoy. I really envy their options.
In retrospect, as a bullied kid in school, summer camp was a great idea and a chance to make a fresh start socially. For a borderline extrovert, it allowed me to come out of my shell, crank up the energy and quickly make new friends. Summer camp became a bit of a witness protection program for me, in allowing me a few weeks to hang out with a different set of friends and live a different and virtually stress-free life. It really was vacation time for me!
Thanks again Mom and Dad! I may not have said it back then, but I sincerely appreciate the experience!
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