Thursday, July 10, 2008

Camp Season

Summer camp season is upon us. My oldest son has already completed a week at Susquehanna University’s Wind Ensemble Institute, a sleepover camp at which he spent as many as six hours a day practicing clarinet in preparation for a recital and a concert at week’s end. (The concert was very impressive for an ensemble of mostly high school kids.)

My daughter is away this week as a Girl Scout. She’s participating in a central Pennsylvania camp’s Cables, Carabiners, & Currents program. This involves navigating a system of ropes high above the ground, rock climbing, and white-water rafting—presumably not all at the same time. It sounds like a great week, but we won’t know until she returns; our daughter has never communicated with us from summer camp.

She’ll come home for a day and a half, and then leave to another camp—this one more of an academically focused sleepover camp based at Mansfield University about an hour and a half north of Lewisburg. Then, her brother—my middle child—will go to the Mansfield summer camp. Later, my oldest son will attend a sleepover Boy Scout camp for a week, and then both of my boys will do band camp—a day camp for the high school marching band.

There’s one overwhelming truth I’ve learned from past summer camp seasons: the more kids that are away at camp during a week, the quieter it is around the house. This isn’t a big deal because my office is in the far corner of the basement, and, when at my desk, I’d have no clue if a wild party ensued in the rest of the house. Still, dinners are quieter with two kids than with three, and even quieter with one than with two or three.

Summer camp also reduces the general commotion of shuttling kids to classes and social engagements—but Stacy handles ninety percent or more of the shuttling, so this also isn’t a huge change during the season.

For me, there are two most significant effects of summer camp that are extensions of the quiet and lessened commotion:

1. The cadence of our household changes when one or more child is away at camp; it doesn’t feel quite right. We make decisions based on the tastes of only four or three people rather than on the tastes of five. Movies, foods, board games, excursions… with fewer people, the dynamics are different—not better or worse or easier—just different. For example, with my daughter away, the boys wanted to watch a PG-13 movie every night… we don’t watch a movie every night, so that was odd. And near the end of week two, my oldest son observed that we’d watched a lot of suspense and action flicks (James Bond, The Fugitive, Frequency, so we opted for a comedy (Ferris Bueler’s Day Off).

2. Our kids do just fine at camp… and they’re approaching the age where going away becomes a more permanent condition. Seeing them succeed so handily for a week or two is gratifying; when it’s time to go for good, no doubt they’ll flourish. But each success amplifies the inevitability of their departure. I miss them a bit while they’re at camp, and I’ll miss them a bunch when they head off to college and careers.

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