Thursday, July 30, 2015

First Time at Sleepaway Camp - Tips for Mom

As milestones go, this is a pretty big one, in terms of the change and stress it brings. A sleepover night with the grandparents, or even a close friend, is one thing, but sending your child away to sleep in a cabin with strangers for an entire week? That's a whole different ball game, and when you put it in those words you almost have to ask yourself, "What the heck was I thinking?!"

But those strangers are trained, professional counselors with criminal records checks and a love of sharing the camping experience with your kid. And those cabins are also filled with other kids the same age, many of whom are also away from home for the first time, and some of whom may become your kid's lifelong friends. Camp is an amazing experience that provides for so many kinds of personal growth and skills development. Making new friends, conflict management, independence, communication skills, teamwork - your child will thrive in these areas while also having an amazing amount of fun and new adventures.
Boo it really looking forward to learning archery
But aside from reminding yourself of all that, and trying to focus on how much fun you had when you went to camp, what other steps can you take as a parent to prepare yourself? Aside from stockpiling wine?

Darned if I know. I'm a nervous wreck. Boo is heading to his first ever sleepaway camp this weekend and all I see in front of me is a week filled with weird silence and a lot of checking on his empty room, wishing I could see his sweet little head on his pillow.

How am I supposed to sleep when he might be getting eaten by a bear??!

Those are some really white teeth.
Ok, that's a bit extreme. I don't actually think there's any chance of him becoming some wild animal's dinner. I do have anxiety any time he is around water though, probably because of my own near-drowning experience, so knowing he'll be around water without my watchful eye is scary. Of course, the folks supervising will have actual lifeguard credentials, whereas I doubt I could ever save him unless he was somewhere I could still touch bottom. So there's that.

I do worry about him not eating. Because, well, he doesn't eat. And he's extremely picky, with a limited range of foods he considers edible. But then I remember that he always ate at daycare. So maybe a little positive peer pressure in the dining hall will help. Our older son swears the counselors will force him to eat, but really, has he met his brother? Even if Boo only eats bread and butter at meals for the week, I just hate the thought of him feeling hungry. So I'm packing a few healthy and not-so-healthy snack options for a late-night nibble if he needs.

And I worry about him feeling lonely and missing us. Which really wouldn't be the end of the world, I know. But what if it is? What if he's completely despondent and crying for his Mama and no one can help him calm down? Right? Breaks my heart to think about it. So I shouldn't. My friend's son (same age) just came back from his first camp experience. He reports that he cried for the first three nights, but then it was ok. He missed his parents, but wasn't devastated. Next year he wants to go to camp for 2 weeks, so there you go.

Our camp allows us to send him emails and pictures, which they will deliver daily. I've already registered and purchased a package of credits so we can send him a little hello, a picture of his hamster, a silly joke to share with his new friends. He can't contact us, but he'll know we're still here and thinking about him. I think that will help.

Part of that service also allows us to check out camp photos that are uploaded daily. You had better believe I will be logging in regularly to look for the photographic evidence that my child is still alive and not crying in a corner somewhere.

So maybe I do have some ideas on how to prepare myself after all.  And here's another - if your camp has an open house day, be sure to attend if you at all can. Or, opt to drive your child to camp yourself rather than sending him on the bus. I know those ideas aren't necessarily going to work for everyone, but seeing in person where he would be spending his week helped me immeasurably. We went to the open house and I was able to see how shallow the swimming area is and how well marked out the different sections are for different skill levels. I saw the cabins and the dining hall, and the vast array of life jackets. And I met a few counselors who will be his caregivers and instructors during his week. They are young, but solid and eager and kind.

Boo is heading to his first ever sleepaway camp this weekend, and I am a nervous wreck.

He, on the other hand, is stoked and can't stop talking about it!

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