As camp directors, we have faced homesickness hundreds of times. We know that it is usually most common in first year campers, but that even returning kids can struggle with it for a few years. We know how to distract kids, keep them busy, to help them keep their mind off the homesickness. We know it can manifest itself in stomachaches, tears, or belligerent anger. We know it’s hard to understand, as a parent, why we don’t let them call home when they are homesick. And we know it’s even harder to not just come pick them up when you know they are struggling. We’ve seen the victory of overcoming that homesickness, and the pride on their faces. This is the side of homesickness with which we are familiar.
This summer, our 8 year old, Rowan, went to camp for 2 weeks by herself for the first time. I wrote a blog about how hard it was to be away from her for 2 weeks, and to trust everything was ok. After a week, we got our first letter and it was the one every camp parent dreads, telling us how homesick she was, and begging us to come pick her up. And two days later another one of the same. When we picked her up, she asked if we had gotten the letter she sent…the good one…telling us how much she loved camp. It arrived two days after she got home and read:
“I am so happy to be back but so sad to leave my new third home. And just so you know I loved it and want to go next year for three and a half weeks. Thanks so much for getting me outside rather than inside. You changed my life!”
And for days afterward, we were regaled with tales of camp…friends, jokes, trips, food. She already had it planned out that she would go her fourth year for 7 weeks. She wanted to text and visit friends and she couldn’t wait for next summer. But when sign up came around, she wasn’t ready. In those two months, the focus had shifted from the fun of this summer to the memory of how hard the homesickness was. She overcame it and had an amazing time and wanted to go back. But now the strongest memory was the Hard. We have signed her up for next summer, knowing spots would fill quickly. But she still isn’t ready to commit to next summer.
This is the side of homesickness we don’t have experience with…the Round 2, when the memory of how hard it was overwhelms the excitement and the fun. We see it conquered over the summer, and assume it has been conquered for good. Apparently its ghost can come back to haunt. We will continue to talk to her this winter and hopefully by next spring she will come around. We know firsthand the incredible benefits of summers spent at camp, and we saw her growth after only one summer. We want that for her as she grows up. As camp parents, have you seen this in your own sons? That the hard part of camp, whether it was the homesickness, or the swim test, or something else, overwhelms the memories of the joy? I would love to hear your thoughts.