“These aren’t as good as the waffles at camp,” my son says as I put the previously frozen fat stack in front of him.
Not one to often share details about his school day or thoughts after losing a soccer game, he does pop out with sweet commentary about summer camp. Sending him to camp is the only guaranteed way to get him overflowing with stories. The month he goes away fills him with enough memories to keep him chirping until the following June.
When I was growing up, sleepaway camp was a luxury only a few kids I knew got to experience. I did get sent to Matoaka up north in Oakland when I was 15 because of an advertising barter my Don Draper-esque dad made with the owner (although I think it was more to give my newly divorced parents time to try their hands at dating).
That was not the ideal time to be dropped into a cabin of wealthy teen girls who had been summering together for eight years already. But the other shy, black sheep soon found me and we spent a lot of time hiding in the rafters of the boathouse talking about how we wished we could be like the girls in Heathers. So, when my son started begging to go sleepover camp when he was 8, I was hesitant. That’s a lot of money so he can hide. Yet a few weeks all to myself felt deliciously gluttonous, so I promised to think about it.
Over the years, our family friend Linda Manchester had gushed about how much her son loved going to Camp Nashoba North on Raymond’s Crescent Lake. It was a “real Maine camp,” she said. Not like the country club camps that are popular with New Yorkers, with air conditioning and celebrity kids getting out of limos at drop-off. Intrigued, I signed up for a tour with director Sarah Seaward.
Nashoba has rustic cabins, archery courses, chores involving raising baby farm animals and an entire Arts and Crafts building–which, TMI, my son calls Farts and Craps because he sneaks in there when he has to go Number Two. There’s fishing, nights around legit bonfires and the kitchen uses local produce for meals.
Somewhere around the pen of bleating baby goats, I decided this camp was about building good people.
I sighed, “I want to come here,” to Seaward so many times, my son was terrified they might actually make an exception to let me in.
If I had more than one child, my guess is I wouldn’t have been all-in on overnight camp, for the doubling of expenses alone. Camp isn’t cheap. But since he is an only, I could justify the cost as a tuition of sorts, so he could learn to co-habitat with other people in very intimate quarters for more than one night. It’s good to have to learn to find private places to poop, right? That’s a major life skill. And kids love choice! Between picking his camp courses, making new friends and eating food I don’t have to make, it seemed like a win-win for both of us.
I was nervous that first year that he would want to come home after his counselors asked him to pick up his wet towels for the tenth time. Then the director called to inform me he was begging to stay the rest of the session. We settled on one additional week. When I picked him up, really ready to see his wet towels strewn about again, my no-crying-ever kid collapsed into sobs as he hugged his bunkmates farewell. Choking back my own tears, I promised he would be back here before he knew it.
In the camp spirit of trying new things, I use his time away to travel solo. Last year it was France and this year I am going to Belgium. If nothing else, I can learn how to make waffles as good as the ones at camp.
Maggie Knowles writes about all things kid. She and her family live in Yarmouth, where she gardens, keeps bees and refuses to get rid of her stilettos.