ME: So the summer I was 8, my parents sent me to camp for two months and went to Europe & Israel.
East Coasters: Me too! (high fives)
When I casually drop the info that I’m sending my almost 8 year old son to sleep away camp this summer, the locals get a little woozy. “He’s going with his two big sisters” I tell them. Mostly so they don’t call Child Protective Services on me.
So disparate are the views towards “sleep away” summer camp between East and West Coasters that it’s almost a cultural difference. Like we are from two different countries instead of different coasts.
Here on the west coast, sleep away camp provokes shock and a little reproach as well. You’re sending your precious littles AWAY? To strangers? Don’t you love them? The very concept is suspect, as is your parenting, all of the sudden. I’d blame it on helicopter parenting styles but those same parents who wouldn’t send a kid to sleep away camp will happily drop their tween kiddos off for an unescorted day at a theme park frequented by gangs or a public beach. Presumably these are the places they spent their childhood summers? It has to be something else, some lack of familiarity, that is the reason for their fear.
There are some notable exceptions, mostly having to do with religion, sports, or academics. Even the most anti-sleep away camp parents will send their kids to Vacation Bible School for a week or an intensive dance/baseball training camps. They will send them to a camp that improves their chances of academic success as well. Possibly this is a case of the means being justified by the ends. It’s acceptable to send your precious children away with a specific goal in mind?
West Coast Jewish families are also far more amenable to the concept of camp in general as well. Perhaps it’s just such a vital part of our collective American history that it’s stuck. A bit of the East Coaster that’s clung to us.
Town and Country Magazine’s June/July issue features “America’s Summer Camp Revival”. It’s a phenomenon sweeping the nation but not quite rooted in LA yet. Camp is back! Particularly the “Classic” camps of my youth. I’m thrilled and I’m not surprised. Summer camp remains the one place where kids can still escape from the constant pressures of school, the media, their cell phones and computer screens. They can stop living their lives through the Facebook interface and meet friends face to face. It’s almost more real life than their real life, in that regard.
I’ve seen amazing things happen at summer camp. Life skills are learned at camp and confidence blossoms. Perhaps I’m being a little judgmental when I say that I don’t see that happening as much with kids parked at home in front of a screen for half the summer, running errands with their mom and engaging in arranged play dates arranged more as a way to pleasantly kill the time than build their independence, self awareness & character.
I’m not immune to the judgement of my peers when I tell them that my kids are heading to sleep away camp this summer. Two weeks for my 8 year old. It’s all I can afford and also possibly all *I* can handle. Yes it is hard to trust him to the care of others, and yes I will worry.
As much as I hate to “send my kids away”, I believe it’s going to be good for them. Even if they don’t love camp like I did, hopefully they will own their experiences without me and come back stronger for that. I already can’t wait to meet them again.
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