September – Camp Stories

Camp Stories, by Jolly Corley

September - Back to School Month

My children are now starting to get into their school groove. The transition from camp mode to home always takes a little time. For my eight-year-old daughter it is always the nighttime that is tough. Having had 12 bunkmates each night to whisper to and giggle with is wonderful compared to the quiet loneliness of her bedroom.   For my eleven-year-old son it is the camaraderie of his buddies being constantly available to play a crazy fun made up Frisbee game on senior row or the competition of Lake’s Region tournaments. Being home necessitates making arrangements to hang out with friends, waiting for mom to sign him up for tournaments and extra-curricular activities that less than a month ago were at his doorstep and completely accessible to him without having to wait around for a ride or arranging of parental schedules.

We are getting there and feeling back in the groove of living together. We are now past the first 48 hours where all conversation revolved around what happened at camp. The sad mopey behavior of my son, due to desperately missing Bunk 19, has faded. My daughter, on most nights, can fall asleep without multiple trips to see us because it’s too quiet and scary in her room by herself.  What we have now is family time squeezed into the moments between lacrosse workshops, piano lessons, school, swim lessons and weekend plans with school friends. The incredible thing is that in those family moments the stories are very often camp related.

Sometimes they share wonderful heartwarming stories about their team winning or being asked by a friend to be their partner for a special event. Other times they are more heartbreaking and troubling. I have the advantage of being an educator and parent. I will say though that in those moments of the more difficult stories I have to dig deep to find the balance of educator and parent – The stories where one or the other of my children was not included, was laughed at or felt they had made a mistake of grand proportion in front of their peers. Those moments are part of life and I believe camp helps my children learn to cope with those social failures in a way that they will be stronger and more socially competent at school. They are teachable moments. Many of those moments were handled at camp and when I ask what happened next my children will tell me about another friend who stuck up for them, or a counselor they spoke to or that they just shook it off “because most of the time when someone acts like that they are probably just having a bad day.”  Those are responses are when I glow with the wonderful benefits of camp and how my children are growing. These stories were generally annoying at the time but my children have managed and moved on.

However, there are other stories that come up multiple times. These are the moments that I realize have not been resolved. As much as camp tries to be aware and handle every challenging moment, I realize that this is not always possible. It is essential that we as parents work in partnership with our camp, school or other organizations that our children are a part of. As a director I feel it is essential to cultivate a partnership with parents so that that we may provide the best opportunity for growth and development for Robindel Campers. As a parent I have to remain calm and engage my children in a conversation about the unpleasant parts of life. It is crucial that I control my emotions (remember the momma bear I wrote about in my July post?). It has been shown that children will stop sharing information if they think it upsets their parents (Roberts, 2008). That is alarming to me and I wanted to share how I handle those stories about camp that I am uncertain about, especially if they seem to bother my children.

When I hear a concerning story a second time I generally ask my children some of the following questions:

  • What did you do when this happened?
  • Why do you think the camper/friend did that?
  • Did this camper do this only to you or did they treat others like this?
  • Did anyone help?  Did you tell anyone?
  • If you did not ask for help why didn’t you?
  • What do you think you could have done differently?
  • What would you have like to have happened?
  • What do you think would have happened if what you wanted happened?

It is wonderful to be an active part of their social development and use these camp stories as teachable moments in coping with a variety of social situations. Most of the time the act debriefing the incident with my children is all they need to let go of the unpleasant memory. My simply listening, asking questions (without commentary) and then having a discussion with my children is the resolution they need.

It is encouraging to remember that even though sometimes the stories can be concerning, when children share both the good and unpleasant stories from camp:

1) You are someone they trust
2) They want to share
3) This connects you to their experience at camp, and
4) You can be part of their ongoing social development.

Enjoy family time this fall and listening to all those camp stories. I now completely understand the famous movie quote “This one time at band camp…” My husband and I are constantly entertained at the dinner table with all sorts of funny stories about camp. Just don’t forget to also appreciate the not so funny stories.