Refresh: Roller Coaster Ride For Obsessed Overnight Camp Parents

Since so many of us are clicking “refresh” on summer overnight camp photos, I’ve posted my thoughts and reflections from last year’s camp experience below. This year, I vow not to click “refresh”… as much.

This summer, I sent my daughter to overnight camp for the first time. Two weeks before she was supposed to leave, I was surprised I never heard a word from the camp. What to pack? How
 should I prepare my child? What if she got homesick? Parenting preparation? Kid preparation? I was left to my own devices (uh oh). As a communications professional, I was surprised the camp didn’t send us “how-to tips” such as preparing your child for sleepaway camp or preparing the parents for children to go away. Sure, the packing list was on the site, but I needed a little something more to help guide our child to this new adventure and stage in her life. Left to my own devices, I sent multiple texts to friends, who thankfully, understood my desire to prepare emotionally ahead of time. Camp Communications Tip #1: Text other mothers for support.

I figured out the camp communicates with parents once their children arrive via blog entries and photos. Once the lines of communication opened up, I was surprised at my reaction (aka “obsession”). Each day I went online and searched for photos of my daughter. In the first set of photos, I saw kids from last year greeting each other with a huge hug after they got off the bus. Since this was my daughter’s first year as a camper, I was worried she would feel lost and alone while the other children were hugging their friends from last year. I thought to myself: How was she feeling? Did she know where to go? Who was going to tell her how to get to her cabin? How to unpack?  I didn’t cry when the bus left our neighborhood, but I did cry while reviewing the photos of her arrival.  I was worried. Camp Communications Tip #2: Review the blog – do not obsess. Do not obsess. Do not obsess.

One day later, the camp posted a photo of her with a smile on her face, standing by her cabin. My thoughts ran wild: this is a fake smile. Not a bright smile, just a simple, unsure, I’ll be OK smile. Two days later the Camp Director posted a blog describing that my daughter was on a day trip. My mind raced. Was she having fun? I thought it was amusing that school field trips (15 minutes away) require several forms to be signed before they could go, while camp required none. Camp Communications Tip: Go back to Tip #2.

Each day as I anxiously read the blog and sorted through hundreds of photos, I couldn’t wait until I caught a glimpse of my daughter. Was that her behind the other kids? Was that her in the water? What shirt was she wearing?  The lack of direct communication was very difficult. When our first letter arrived it had about 3-4 sentences: “Dear Mom, Dad & Devin, I’m having a good time. Here are a bunch of addresses I need. Also, I need stamps.” Word on the street is that this was a long letter.  I’ll take it. Any form of communication. Camp Communications Tip #3: Write a lot, but don’t worry about responses.

I worry about many things, but I was still shocked about the roller coaster of emotions each time I read the camp blog, saw the photos and read letters from my daughter. I was truly relieved when I saw several fantastic photos of her big smiling face. By the end of two weeks, I knew she was happy, not from the letters, but I could read her body language. I saw the sparkle in her eyes, emotion on her face, an expression of happiness and clear signs of confidence. She was psyched. She was loving life. She felt free. Camp Communications Tip #4: Body language is everything.

Sure enough, upon pick-up day, I also cried. My husband couldn’t believe it and said, “We are getting her now. There ’s no reason to cry.” I guess it was a huge relief this roller coaster ride ended, AKA, summer camp. And….she had a fantastic time. Turns out, she didn’t want to leave. Camp Communications Tip #5: Let it go.

Below is a photo of my daughter on Day 2 of overnight camp this year. I’m pretty sure she’s in her “happy place.”

Binay Curtis is a communications professional based out of San Francisco, CA. When she’s not helping a company communicate, she can be found at Cross-fit, with her family, online at wwww.galaxysix.com, or just about any social network.
 
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