Twice a week, we require campers to write a letter home to their parents. We usually wait a couple of days before having the first letter day. Inevitably, if we have the first letter day too soon, there will be at least one letter that looks something like this:
The stains you see on this page are from tears falling from my eyes. No one likes me. I am so sad. If you truly loved me, you would come and get me. Your son, Johnny”
Of course, most parents would naturally worry when they receive a letter like this. Their first instinct might be to jump in the car and come pick up their son. But there are other parents who smile and save the letter to show their son when he is older. Maybe these parents have sent older sons to camp or maybe they went to camp themselves. Regardless, they recognize “the letter” for what it is.
“The letter” is a perfectly natural reaction to the early days of camp. You see, home is a pretty special place full of 1) wonderful people you know love you and 2) reassuring routines. Camp, on the other hand, is initially full of people you do not know, and unfamiliar experiences. When you are unsure of yourself, you long for your parents, your room, your pets, and anything that is “normal”.
So on the first or second day of camp, during rest hour, you sit on your bunk and long for home. Chances are that two hours ago, you were fine because you were riding behind a boat or on a horse, but now (remember, you are at rest hour) you have nothing to do but think about home. You break out the pen and stationery your parents sent you with, and you write the most powerful prose you can imagine.
Of course, the letter does not arrive home until 3-4 days later. So while the evidence of your misery works its way through the US Postal system, things begin to change. You realize that the others campers in your cabin want to make new friends as much as you do. You discover that your counselor is a very cool guy who can play the guitar or tell great jokes. You become familiar with the schedule of camp and the location of the dining hall, activities, and campfire ring. Almost without noticing, you realize that you are having a blast.
Then the letter arrives.
After your parents have recovered from their near heart stoppages, they start to make plans to save you from your misery. Then they call the camp to see how the directors are dealing with all the pain. What do they hear? “Your child is doing great!” Doubt rushes in. How could they have sent their child to a camp that is so out of touch with human suffering? Shouldn’t it be obvious to all that the child is having a tough time? The director (whose credibility might be suffering given the apparent lack of insight) tries to explain that their camper probably wrote the letter on the first or second day and is now over the initial homesickness. They want to believe it, but they are not sure.
Of course, there are some homesickness cases that are more acute. In these situations, we will reach out to parents to discuss the situation – we want to help your camper as much as you do.
As we head into our 85th season of camp, let us reassure you that we have been helping homesick campers for many summers. Many of our counselors were homesick themselves as campers and are a fantastic support as well. If you are sending your son to camp for the first time, and are worried that he might be homesick, please try not to send him to camp with the statement, “Just try it for a few days, and if you are too homesick, we’ll come get you.” Those kids are much more likely to give up and go home early. They held onto that statement rather than really trying to enjoy camp. Instead, send your son to camp with statements of how proud you are of him, how you know he’s going to have the best time of his life, and how you can’t wait to hear all of his stories when he arrives home.
We know it isn’t easy sending your son to camp for the first time, especially if neither parent grew up going to camp. This is one of the main reasons we try to keep parents in the loop through the daily blog, our Facebook page, and pictures on Shutterfly. We want to encourage independence in our campers, but we also want to provide parents with reassurance. We want to be able to show you the smile on your son’s face even as you hold “the letter”. We want you to get a one way mirror into your camper’s joys here. We want you to share in the magic we experience each day.