Last summer I poured my heart out about why camp matters to our family and all that it did for my kids. All of the things I said last year remain true.
But there are new truths this summer. My kids have returned to camp for a second year. It’s a totally different experience.
Last year they ventured into the unknown. They didn’t know what their bunks would look like or what kind of kids they would meet. They worried about the activities and the counselors. Would they make friends? Would they find anything to eat? Would it be fun? They were heading off to camp as strangers in a strange land.
This year they had none of those worries. They returned as natives. Sure there was some apprehension about who’d be in their bunks and what counselors they would get but it was a different sort of concern. It mattered less because they were pretty sure they were going to have fun. The return to a familiar, happy place, was something that we all could look forward to.
It was different for me too. Last summer I looked at photos from camp obsessively – 2 or 3 times a day. I was hoping for any glimpse of my kids, any reassurance that they were ok, and some idea of what the camp looked like in real life. I read the photos like tea leaves – every casual gesture assigned meaning, every smile evaluated for authenticity.
This summer I checked once a day at most. A couple of nights I even fell asleep before checking for bunk notes from camp. Gone was the anxiety I felt as a parent. I was pretty confident that they were happy there, having the time of their lives. Their photo smiles were authentic. Almost goofily so.
When my kids returned from camp this year, they were once again changed. Their confidence blossomed and they returned with new identities, much like last year , new definitions of themselves. My daughter is “The crack shot girl that swims with bat rays and paddleboards to far off coves,” and my son is the “The boy that sails and excels at Gaga”. They have learned (and shared) every camp song , a couple of secret languages and have a fresh batch of inside jokes about counselors and skits performed at talent shows. They’ve taught all the kids on the block the “Pink Fluffy Unicorns Dancing on Rainbows” song. It’s a thing.
But here is the thing that strikes me most about their return this summer, the shift I see. The second year cemented it. All of the good things that happened last year, and this year have combined and settled.
They are now dual citizens. They have two nationalities in their hearts. Camp is a land where they see themselves fitting in and belonging. It’s their home and their community. They count the days till they return, and speak openly about how special it is for them there. Camp is now part of their past, and something they have written into their vision of the future. Daily they speak about which bunk they will be in, in the coming years, and what badges they will earn. They speak of camp routines and rituals as their summer world’s way of life, as opposed to the itinerary of a pleasant vacation. It’s a different way of thinking.
I can tell they really like their summer selves a lot too. They are proud of their summer accomplishments that vary so greatly from their winter ones.
I’m so thrilled for them to have this separate place of belonging. How wonderful to have a summer home to look forward to like this I wish them many more summers at Catalina Island Camp and a lifetime of feeling like camp remains a home in their heart, a place where their summer selves belong.