Firsts and Lasts

Firsts & Lasts

Written By: Jolly Corley


Visiting Day 2010

There are childhood milestones that most of us as parents expect: first word, first step, first day of kindergarten, even the first summer of sleep away camp. I, like every parent, watched and cheered each of these milestones. This summer we experienced the first of a new kind of milestone in this phase of parenting…the last.

This summer was my son’s last summer at his camp. I was not expecting the “last” moments that mark the steady beat of time to his adulthood. The emotions of the last summer at camp came as a surprise. Most likely the surprise came because I wasn’t ready and let’s be honest, it also marks my getting older. It crosses my mind often – how can I be old enough to have a child who (fill in the blank: is in high school, is turning 16, will be driving soon…), but I realize that those thoughts bring about a mindset that laments rather than celebrates.

It is interesting that as children grow older the milestones can turn to sadness rather than the elation we feel when a child takes their first step. So, I remind myself to celebrate these milestones as accomplishments. Soon my guidance and teaching may be appreciated rather than viewed as nagging. As my children get older I can begin to enjoy the fruits of my labor in new ways, like conversing with a young adult who is thoughtful, well spoken and respectful. That it is my own journey of parenthood.

What surprised me even more than my own new parenting experiences was my son’s response to his last summer; I still get goosebumps thinking about it.

I assume that all parents who send their children to camp see the value in it. I am a little embarrassed (considering my profession) to admit that the moment I truly understood what camp meant to my son came halfway through his final summer. When we were at dinner with his camp friends and their parents, the boys sat at one table and the parents at another. At first, I was a little disappointed because I was hoping to spend the night catching up with him. Without Bunk1 showing me photographic proof that he was still at camp, I may not have been convinced. This was his 10th summer at camp and his communication with us parents was pretty much non-existent. Within minutes of everyone settling in I was able to witness something more telling than the many times he has told me how much he loved camp and his buddies.

Visiting Day 2018

I watched as the group of 15-year-old boys talked and laughed. The ease and intimacy they shared was incredible. During visiting day over the years, we had met his friends but on visiting day we focused on him, not his interaction with his friends. He kept in contact with them but due to our location in the Midwest he never visited with them outside of summer camp. I was in awe and incredibly grateful for this shared moment I witnessed. I knew in that moment why he loved camp and I began to understand his sadness with this being his last summer. He felt understood, supported and loved (not that a 15-year-old boy would use those words).

I have no idea what was being said at their table, but the expressions and laughter were undeniable. They cared for each other in a brotherhood that I would never fully understand but one for which I am completely grateful. In that brotherhood there are both wonderful moments and challenging moments. Together they learned to sail, played their hardest to beat rival camps in every sport imaginable, cheered and chanted and enjoy the benefits we all know camp provides our children. They did not always see eye to eye; they fought, got annoyed and hurt each other’s feelings and pride. It is in fact those moments that really solidified the brotherhood that I witnessed that evening. They made it through the good and bad times together.

I wish I had understood this a bit more when he was going through the growing pains of various moments of camp: when he and his buddies didn’t love a particular ‘mean’ counselor or when they struggled to share space together without getting annoyed and lash out at each other. I think if I had understood this more I would have worried less about the decision to have him away from me for that long during those impressionable times from 6-15 years old. I would have understood that it is not in fact the happiest moments that make for growth in the bonds he shares. It is the difficult times that they shared and conquered together. It is the shared intensity of living together 24-7 for seven weeks, in an atmosphere where technology does not interrupt or hide them from each other. They understand and support each other both at their best and worst. It is the shared experiences until the very end that bonded them together.

My son came home devastated. Tears and sleep allowed for time to mend his hurting heart. His fear was not staying in touch with his buddies that had become such a part of him. Fantasy football helps a little, social media makes it easier…but the sadness of what he is missing was made crystal clear when he got to spend a weekend with camp friends recently. The mother hosting the boys said something that struck me. She said, “The boys stayed up until midnight talking and laughing. Not once was the television or Xbox turned on. My son never does that with his friends at home. They always have one or the other on.”

Of course! They have never had that kind of relationship. At camp they spend time on a lake, around a campfire and playing together. They only know how to talk to each other in person, unlike the home friends my son has who he Snap Chats, messages, etc.

Camp friends are in person, up close, in your space…authentic.