A Few Good Moms: Can you handle the truth about summer camp?

For mom, summer camp is really about making sure she will reach the end of the summer season with her house and her marriage and her sanity intact.
For mom, summer camp is really about making sure she will reach the end of the summer season with her house and her marriage and her sanity intact. Getty Images/iStockphoto

The mom tosses her son’s sleeping bag onto a coveted top bunk in the cabin. She chats with his counselors and takes a few pictures with her cellphone. She tells him to be careful, gives him a long hug, and then finally turns to leave. As she walks back to her car a huge smile spreads across her face.

You want the truth about summer camp? I think you can handle it.

Let’s just cut to the chase. Summer camps are not for kids. Oh sure, they seem to target them with all that kid-friendly stuff – sports and activities and fun locales and “make new friends but keep the old” babble. With all of that propaganda it’s easy to think this is all about the kiddos, but make no mistake about it: summer camp is for the parents.

It was a sad day when I realized that some stay-at-home moms start researching and locking down camp options super early – alarmingly early – akin to Christmas music at the mall in October early. Like, before this summer has ended, the next one’s gigs are lined up. This is sure to cause panic for some: Am I behind? How am I possibly behind on the summer schedule when we haven’t had fall, winter or spring yet? Is she the best mom ever? Is she insane?

Clearly, this is not a real problem in life. Even so, there was a time when I struggled to negotiate the summer camp scene. But now I believe I have cracked this nut. The hyper-organized mom may be part of a larger cultural phenomenon/ problem, but don’t be fooled by her manic diligence. This is not primarily about furthering the growth and maturity and skills of her offspring . . .

This is really about making sure she will reach the end of the summer season with her house and her marriage and her sanity intact.

Summer is wonderful and awesome and super great and fun, but when you have siblings in close quarters for extended amounts of time with limited structure, things can get a little crazy. You just have to know that there will be a window of time when you can immerse yourself in a days-long adult swim.

So it might look like I am trying to cultivate a superstar when you see us take off for basketball camp, but really I am squaring that sports camp with the understanding that after three weeks of togetherness between competitive, rambunctious, boy brothers, someone’s gotta go.

It may appear that I am strategically challenging my son to become more independent and self-sufficient through scheduled time away, when actually I am reconciling his sleep-away experience with the novel writing course that I have been wanting to take for months.

It might seem that I see a future for my child in woodworking or hope that his camping adventures will prepare him for upcoming mission trips with the church, but in fact that mountain camp lines up perfectly with a business trip my husband has to Chicago. I love Chicago.

The great culmination of the summer camp experience for our family occurs when both brothers are at camp at the same time. This is when my husband and I have our own grown-up camp, and are reminded of why we married each other in the first place.

Our activities include: leisurely cooking without interruption, parked-car-no-carpool afternoon siestas, happy hour, and adults-only naked camp.

Last summer we received a letter from my son while at camp describing his overnight camp-out. It rained the entire time. Since it rained they couldn’t have s’mores. It was cold and there wasn’t anyplace comfortable to sleep.

After listing about ten additional issues with this deal he signed off with the slightly suspicious and bitter Anyway, hope YOU’RE having fun.

Oh, don’t worry. We are. Because even though this is the season of kids’ fun adventures – like summer camp – the truth is, when the kids are away . . . the parents will most definitely play.

Want to get a better handle on summer camps? Check out local options for the kids with this camp database from The Charlotte Observer, catch a fun show at the Blumenthal while the young ones are away, or consider renting the awesome summer story The Way Way Back, written and directed by Charlotte’s own Jim Rash.