My house is eerily quiet. My two oldest kids left today for camp.
It might be a lot more calm around here than normal and there’s less bickering, but I miss them already. There’s a gaping hole where they should be and I’m glad they’ll be back in a week.
But it’s summer camp.
When my oldest was an infant I started thinking about when he would be able to go to camp. I’ve dreamed of the day I’d be able to load them on a bus full of friends and wave as they depart on the life-changing adventure.
Most people probably consider summer camp a pretty simple thing. Kids go, stay in cabins, sing songs, play games, come home. Not so. Not for me anyway.
My childhood was really difficult at times and the best– the very, very best– memories I have of my childhood are the summers I spent at camp in Lake Tahoe.
It’s because of all those summers that I wish Quaking Aspen would grow in the desert. It’s the reason I have a lanyard key chain (the quintessential camp craft). It’s why I love the forest and the smell of pine needles. And it’s the only reason why I’d ever eat something called “beanie-weenies.”
We had to sing at morning roll call if a package came for us. We fished for crawdads. We watched the sun set over the lake from Pope Beach. We rode horses and hiked and slept in teepees and laughed until it hurt.
At the end of each day, we’d sit on benches surrounding a bonfire, wrapped in the black velvet night under the cover of more stars than you could imagine. We’d roast marshmallows and sing and put on skits.
For my first few summers it was just one week, as I got older I stayed for two. From fourth grade into high school I would spend nearly a year counting down the weeks until it was time to leave for Tahoe. I’d settle for letters and phone calls from camp friends since they all lived in Northern California and I lived here in the desert.
I’d spend the week after camp crying in my room.
The recovery sounds depressing, but it wasn’t. Oh, it hurt, but it was worth it.
Some of the friends I made there, I still keep in touch with to this day. One, now a wife and mother in Texas. Another is a husband, a father and has gone to war for this country. Still another– that soldier’s brother– living and working in Wisconsin.
We’re all spread out, but those summers at camp in Lake Tahoe are a thread that connects us.
Parents, consider sending your kids to summer camp. They’re available through the YMCA, churches and organizations like the Boy and Girl Scouts of America, to name a few. Many places offer scholarships and fundraising opportunities.
For me, it was more than just a week or two camping with friends. It was a game changer and I think, looking back, that it probably saved my life.