Loneliness and Pampering at Summer Camp

I wrote last summer about my son’s first overnight camp experience, at the YMCA’s Camp Wood in Kansas. He loved it and wanted to go again. His little sister was eager to go to camp as well. My husband and I had been less impressed with Camp Wood than our son had been, so for the summer of 1992, we decided to look for other camp possibilities.

Their cousins had been to Camp Mondamin (for boys) and its sister camp Green Cove (for girls) in North Carolina on several occasions and raved about how wonderful those camps were. In 1992, our daughter was seven (barely) and old enough (barely) to go to Green Cove. The cousins were going to the long session in July-August, but that didn’t fit our schedule. If we chose those camps, our kids would have to go to the shorter June session. They would each be alone at their respective camp, no sibling or cousin to hang out with.

Green Cove June 1992 M

The littlest camper

I worried about homesickness. Our son had had his Camp Wood experience, but our daughter had never been to camp. She didn’t even like bed-and-breakfasts with a bathroom down the hall—how would she cope in a spartan cabin with other girls and showers in another building? And because her birthday was just a few weeks before camp began, she would be one of the very youngest campers at Green Cove.

“They’ll be fine,” my husband said. He was an old camp hand, and had attended two or three camps a year throughout his childhood.

I, on the other hand, had been homesick after the first day of my first overnight camp, managed to get sent home, and never tried it again.

Still, both kids begged to go. Both children had been away from us for at least two weeks before, but only with well-known relatives, and mostly with each other for company. After some discussion, my husband and I decided they could handle a three-week, far-away adventure. So we signed them up and paid our money.

My husband bought the kids Army surplus trunks of the appropriate size to hold their camp accoutrements. He painted our son’s trunk camouflage green and our daughter’s bright blue. We filled each trunk with clothes, a sleeping bag, and all the other items on the camp list.

We labeled everything with names, as instructed. My daughter, who had been called by her nickname since birth, decided she wanted to be known at Green Cove by her full 8-letter first name. I hadn’t realized some kids start exploring alternative personalities at age seven, which is what my daughter did. I should have remembered that at about the same age, my sister insisted on being called “Prudence”, which is not her name.) I fretted more—our daughter would be off at camp, all alone, without even a familiar name to call her own. But I labeled her possessions with the name she wanted.

In early June, we loaded everything into my Sable station wagon and began the two-day drive from Kansas City to North Carolina. Our itinerary was as follows: Drive to the camps where we would leave my car in North Carolina, my husband and I would fly home, we’d share my husband’s car for the three weeks the kids were gone, we’d fly back in time for the gender-specific parent/child campouts, then drive home. The transportation plan worked, though sharing a car with my husband for three weeks required a lot of negotiation.

I dutifully wrote the kids often while they were gone to let them know I loved them.

As their return letters arrived, I realized our daughter was fine. She listed the activities she’d done and assured us she was having fun. Her letters were short, but she was only seven. We had reports from her counselor also. No problems reported.

Our son was the homesick one. Maybe it was the lack of mud to dunk his head in—his major achievement at Camp Wood. But more likely, it was the lack of a friend to pal around with. Some of the campers had been coming to Mondamin for several years and had cabin-mates they knew. Our son’s letters sounded lonely. He didn’t describe group activities, only the nature hall, where he played with turtles and snakes.

The three weeks passed, and my husband and I flew back to Asheville for the parent/child campouts and the drive home.

Have I previously written that I don’t like to camp? But my husband really wanted to go on the Mondamin Father/Son campout, and my daughter wanted the full Green Cove experience, so I gamely agreed to go on the Mother/Daughter campout.

When we got to Green Cove, I found out how pampered the youngest campers had been. My daughter had lived in a cabin with three other seven-year-olds and two counselors. The whole camp mothered those girls and treated them like princesses. No wonder she loved it.

But we didn’t have much time to tour the camp. Our brave group of mothers and daughters (of all ages, not just the littlest campers) were soon bused from North Carolina to South Carolina, then we hiked to Georgia. Actually, we swam to Georgia. Our campsite was on the edge of South Carolina, across a creek from Georgia. Nothing would do but that we wade across to Georgia. Though I don’t swim well, the creek was only about six feet deep at its deepest, and I survived. So did my seven-year-old, who had a blast.

Green Cove June 1992 camping

Mothers and daughters, before we swam to Georgia

The strangest experience was not swimming to Georgia, but hearing my daughter referred to by a name that heretofore had only existed on her birth certificate. I, of course, called her by her nickname, and her cabin-mates had no idea whose mother I was.

My son survived Mondamin, but never wanted to go back. His sister had loved being a pampered camper and yearned to return to Green Cove. But out of loyalty to her brother, she never asked.

When did you do something because of what your sibling wanted?

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  1. I never went away to summer camp, only local Bible school. I’m sure I’d be quite homesick. Once, my sister made me crawl head first into a sleeping bag, she told me there was candy at the bottom. She proceeded to zip me up. To this day, I blame her for my claustrophobia tendencies. 🙂 The “little camper” is so cute in that photo!

  2. Being an only child, I was my own sibling. I went to Camp Fire Camp in southern Missouri with my group from 1st grade on. My first letter home told my parents how my friend and I caught a snake under our cabin in a glass jar. It was my favorite place to go with friends ever summer.

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