Summer camp

beauty and the beast

Last night, my fourteen year-old daughter returned from two weeks at camp. This camp of hers in Algonquin Park is a pretty classic one: no electronics, no electricity in the tents and cabins, and no flush toilets, so the need to catch up on Instagram and Snapchat (and the proper use of a toilet) is almost immediate.

She spent some time regaling us in all her camp fun including descriptions of cabin mates and their personalities, exceptional stories camp activities and sports and then promptly fell into a twelve-hour, post-camp coma which I believe continues to this hour.

She spent the most time very animatedly telling us about the camp theatre production for July, Beauty and the Beast. This is no let’s-look-through-the-dress-up-box-and-see-what-we-can-find camp skit but a well-executed musical with a very talented cast held in a dedicated outdoor theatre. Not that I have actually seen a production, other than a YouTube-posted version, but they’re impressive. (And I was a postulant in a small town amateur production of The Sound of Music thirty-five years ago so I know what I’m talking about!).

As soon as she got home, she and a neighbour wanted to rent the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast (not sure if it was for comparison or to just gloat at Lumiere’s accent) but I told her we already had a copy, and after an impressively short ten minutes of rummaging I returned to the family room and handed them a VHS.

Honestly, from the look on her and her friend’s faces you would think I just handed them the Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle.

“What is that?”

“It’s Beauty and the Beast.”

“What do I do with that?”

“You pop it into the machine and watch it.”

“Um, machine?”

“Yes, the VHS machine.”

“We have one of those?”

“Yes, we do. It’s a DVD/VHS combo.”

So we figured out the right input channel fairly quickly and the image soon appears on the screen.

“Ugh!” she cried, “What’s wrong with it?!”

“Nothing,” I replied. “We just have to rewind it”

“I have to what?!”

At this point, her friend then says, “Y’know, this sounds like a lot of work. I’m going home.”

However, soon enough though, we were fully rewinded and perfectly snuggled on the couch and watching a VHS-version of Disney’s 1991 release of Beauty and the Beast. (Which, by the way, you cannot actually get on iTunes, at least not in Canada.)  My nineteen year-old soon joined in on the retro movie night and it was a party.

After the movie was over (and remember, Disney movies are only about an hour long!) I suggested to my son, “I’m sure I can bring out you old favourite from the same VHS box, dear.”

To which he replied, “I better go work on my Me Ol’ Bam-boo dance moves, then.”

All this to say, don’t throw away your old VHS tapes or your machine. You’ll never know when they’ll come in handy for a lesson in retro movie watching.

Next up on the marquee: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!

tuck3As the school year is quickly coming to an end, I am getting my three children ready for camp.  I never went to camp as a youngster but they’ve each been going since they were each 8 years old.  You can hear about my personal experience with ENST (empty-nest syndrome training) here and more fun with Summer Camp Math here, but what do I really know about their camp experience?

I don’t actually know a thing about my kids’ camp experiences beyond what I’ve gleaned from their Tuck Shop accounts.

tuck1The term ‘tuck shop’ originated in Britain, used in many Commonwealth countries, generally means a store that sells candy and sweets. It has taken a broader meaning at camps in Canada selling emergency sundry items, but still the primary vendor of candy at camp. As a result, the camp tuck shop is the mirage in the desert, the oasis of the seas; kind of like my Friday happy hour, I imagine. With my fee remittance, I am asked to include a sum to credit to their individual tuck accounts.

The camp my two boys attend annually charges me $70 each for their camp tuck shop account. They are charged $1 for each piece of ‘tuck’ (candy) and are only allowed 3 pieces a week.  It also carries emergency toiletry items like soap, toothpaste and deodorant, though I have no idea what these toiletry items cost since neither have ever touched the ones I pack and therefore has never has no need to ever purchase them. They also sell postage stamps.


Anyway, absent the cost of personal hygiene and letters home, the accounting is pretty easy:  At the end of 4 weeks I am refunded $58 ($70- ($3X4)) each.  I understand that “tuck” candy has become a heavily traded currency given its scarcity. I casually hear statements like, “I’ll give you two pieces of ‘tuck’ if your Mom’s brownies” and “trade you my three ‘tucks’ for your new bottle of Deep Woods Off” are covertly whispered during Visitor’s Day.  I can only imagine the tuck debt that is accumulated over flashlight poker games. I pray my boys’ have the discipline to trade their ‘tuck’ responsibly and in moderation only.

tuck2Compare this to my daughter’s camp that charges me $375 for her tuck account.  Clearly her camp tuck shop is a mini-Neiman Marcus with pine shelves. I was pretty curious what would necessitate a 500% difference in tuck shop credit, as I am sure anyone would.  Obviously, the purchases of camper note pads, waterproof notebooks, pens, stuffed animals, carves, toques, towels, song books, lip balm, necklaces, hoodies, charm bracelets, charms, sunglasses and flashlights really adds up.  Yes indeed, it really adds up. On the other hand, she avails herself of the laundry service and I am able to bail out some of her clothes from death by incineration, unlike the clothes of her brothers.

The good news is that the camp fun does not end when the ‘tuck’ account is depleted, otherwise they would not return year after year.  I guess the most important lesson I’ve learned about my kids’ camp experience can be summarized as follows:  What happens at camp, stays at camp, and parents are gone but not forgotten – because they pay the Tuck Shop bills.

Do you or your kids have a camp Tuck Shop story?

We recently attended an Information Night for the summer camp that my boys have attended every July.  We have been to this event for nine consecutive years.  This year, as my oldest son stood at the front of the room and was introduced as a Junior Counsellor, I was thinking to myself, “Why didn’t he shave or at least tuck his shirt in?!”  And then one the camp directors smiled and added to his introduction, “I remember Connor when he first came to this event as a shy little 8-year old boy”.

Pass the tissues.

Suddenly the stubble and shirt tails were inconsequential as I teared and wistfully recalled that evening back in the spring of 2004.

summercampWe’d decided to grant our first-born the very significant rite of passage to sleepover camp.  The right camp having been chosen, we were planning to attend the camp information night they held in our town.  We waited with eager anticipation for that date that had been circled on our wall calendar for months.  The actual camp night was preceded by a home visit by the camp directors.  They come to meet first-time campers and their families one-on-one to make sure boys are emotionally ready for sleepover camp and deal with the barrage of questions inherent to first-time camper moms. I polished and vacuumed the rarely used living room and dining room as well as every other room on the first floor through which their home visit might take them. Suddenly, the male camp director husband was climbing the stairs with the boys as they dashed to show them their bunk bedded bedroom. “Where are you going?” I sputtered running ahead and gathering bits of dirty socks and sippy cups that may have been overlooked in my tidying frenzy, trying to divert his path.  “Best way to know a boy is to see what his room looks like!” he cheerily advised me, and off they went.

Oh crap.

As everyone, including my three-year old daughter, showed off their prized possessions and ultra messy rooms, the camp directors shared their camp stories and photo albums, adding to everyone’s excitement. We were all declared as “camp ready”.

Later that evening, the whole family piled into the car and headed to the church hall of Parkdale United Church in Ottawa and we listened attentively to all the wonderful camp activities our son would soon be enjoying out from under the watchful eyes of his parents.   Then, I dutifully checked off every item on the camp packing list and obediently adhered to the clothing and equipment requirements, making sure every single item, including each and every sock, was labeled. Little did I know then, that camp clothes gone missing are actually a blessing.

Summer camp packing listAs the first day of camp arrived, I was spared a mother’s heartache of waving good bye to a departing busload of young boys as that is a service provided only to the many boys departing for camp from Toronto.  I am remembering instead the trepidation on the long car ride to camp and suffering unto my son the great indignity of helping him unpack, make his camp bed, organize his camp clothes into an efficient, organized system that would naturally be abandoned the minute I drove away. The pulling over and shedding of tears would have to wait until my car was well out of sight of my son waving goodbye.

Except that he wasn’t waving goodbye. He’d quickly dashed off with his new camper friends and his camp counselor doing what boys do at boys’ sleepover camp.

Suddenly the church hall lights went on, the familiar slide show came to an end, and the bright lights shocked my senses bringing an abrupt end to my reminiscence. Next year will be his younger brother’s turn to stand up in from of this room full of young boys, in our tenth anniversary of camp information nights.

Better stock up on tissues.

One might think that packing all three of my kids off to camp is all about the gear.  But really?  It’s all about the math:

  • 3 giant Rubbermaid bins and 3 empty hockey bags sitting in my front foyer.
  • 3x = 12 (where x = sleeping bags, pillows, blankets, and canoe paddles).
  • U + (-U) = clean Underwear my son will pack.
  • Zero (0) is the amount of food to be brought or sent to camp (a rule which if not respected has a direct linear relationship to the number of tent visits by raccoon).
  • T-10 was when my daughter started packing compared to Lift-Off when my sons started packing.
  • 40% = the amount of laundry my middle son pulled from his dirty laundry hamper to complete his Lift-Off packing.
  • The area of one tent is equal to one half times the base length times the height of the tent.  But that doesn’t really matter because the mass of the belongings of its occupants expands to fill it to capacity.
  • 2 = the number of books BOTH my sons brought to camp, whereas this number to the power of 3 is how many books my daughter brought to camp.
  • $32.00 is roughly the amount of money my daughter will spend on postage stamps at the Tuck Shop (I probably should have warned them about the imminent run on stamps) while the 4 self-addressed stamped envelopes I send with the boys will be repacked for camp in 2013.
  • The number of showers they will all take during the month of July is a infinitesimal number.
  • A minimum of 3 bottles of Frank’s Red Hot Sauce is essential, my son stresses,  to stave off the effects of camp food.
  • Pi = 3.14 camps meals per day (not to be confused with slices of apple pi)
  •  E=MC2 = units of mass and energy are required to direct all this stuff into the car.

Now that they are 11, 14, and 16 you would think my kids would be fairly self-sufficient with their camp packing, given they now have experienced this exercise a combined number of approximately 23 times.  Yet, my daughter appears to have enough gear to outfit CFB Pettawawa, while my son might actually packing a toothbrush is an unknown variable.  Behold, why I check my kids camp packing efforts….

  •  If the number of bathing suits suggested is 2, the number my daughter will pack is 14 (even more if you consider some are two-piece).
  • If the number of pairs of underwear suggested is 6 to 7, the number packed by my middle son will be  2 (both of which will be tossed from the moving car after pick up).
  • About 8-10 pairs of socks are suggested to which both my sons usually reply, “Socks?! Who wears socks in the summer?!”

Despite all this number-crunching and the dichotomy between the theory of packing and the practice of packing, the bigger unsolved equation rests in my eagerness to get them out the door followed by my inability to enjoy the peace and tranquility during their absence.  This is what Empty Nest Training is all about.

Is a camper soon packing up in your household?

Just when I thought (and said, and wrote that) I didn’t notice or care about the national postal strike, my three kids went off to summer camp.  The no-electricity-no-electronics camps, remember?  So, as I am anxiously preparing three loving I-Miss-You care packages to be devotedly sent off before they have even left for camp (believe me, you are not saying anything right now that I haven’t already heard from my husband!), my heart stops beating:  Oh no!  How are these going to get there???!!!  I am suddenly frantically scouring FedEx and UPS sites for rates knowing full well the shipping costs for these three packages will be ten times the value of their contents (believe me, you are not saying anything right now that I haven’t already heard from my husband!).

Alas, the postal workers were legislated back to work (what a happy work environment Canada Post must be) and I shipped off my three packages before camp drop –off day.  I can also now stand daily at my Superbox staring blankly into Box#5 waiting for the daily mail delivery, hoping for return letters from  my three campers (believe me, you are not saying anything right now that I haven’t already heard from my husband).

No news is good news, right?

“We do want to make it very clear that there are no visitor days at camp during the summer months.”

The lump in my throat progresses to tears as I re-read the new policy at my daughter’s summer camp.

This summer marks the first year my 10-year old daughter, my youngest child, my baby, advances from a two-week camper to a month-long camper.  Her own choice, I feel compelled to add.   She has enjoyed an amazing two-week experience at this all-girls camp over the last 2 summers and begged me, upon turning 10, to allow her stay for a month.  I couldn’t refuse since her older brothers have also been attending an all-boys camp each July.  I could hardly refuse based on my anticipation of aching child-sickness.  I could hardly refuse after the camp director confirmed the fact that many of her other former cabin mates will also make this leap to a full month stay on or around their 10th or 11th birthdays as well.  So, I agreed, always knowing that a mid-month visit was planned (as we do with our sons).

“These [visitor] days were completely unsettling for the new and old campers and resulted in campers spending a day getting settled back into camp life. …we take pride in the fact that our campers are our highest priority and our decisions are made with their best interests in mind”

Okay I get it, but what about MY best interests?  I don’t know why, but it actually never dawned on me when I sent my eldest off to camp in the summer of 2003 that someday all my goslings would waddle off into the wild.   It is now happening.   I do take comfort in knowing that without iPods, cell phones, computers and TV, they’ll come home more accomplished swimmers, trippers, archers, canoeists, kayakers, sailors, bush-crafters, campfire chefs, fishers, horseback riders, basketball/soccer/ball hockey players, climbing wall authorities, aerial rope gurus, mountain bikers, woodworkers, singers, thespians, artists, lapidary aficionados, and environmentalists.  I do know I can’t offer them an equal experience at home (because for one thing, there’s no way I’m cooking for 150 kids, I don’t care how cute they are!) and I realize full well that this experience is a great privilege to them.

It’s just that I have always looked forward to that mid-month visit.  Now, as my baby heads off in July for her first month-long camp experience, that date circled in red on the family calendar is two weeks later than I thought… and I’m a little bit sad.

And I’m little bit worried for her too.  So, when I delicately approached the subject of this new policy with her yesterday at the kitchen table, was she concerned? Was she worried? Was she sad?

Not quite.  She gave a magnificent fist pump carried out with a triumphant “Yes!” she was most decidely not concerned, not worried, not sad.

So, the unwritten, implied final piece of this new policy should also read “…and you parents that don’t like it? Get over it!”

My three children are privileged to enjoy several weeks away at summer camp each summer.  While my daughter spends two weeks at girls’ camp, her older brothers enjoy 4 consecutive weeks at a boys’ camp.  If my daughter holds true to her affirmation (and her father and I can afford it), I will be without kids for 4 weeks next summer as she intends to stay for a month as well.  Each year I am repeated asked how can I bear to be without them for so long?  Our decision to build a cottage with no kids to fill it for 4 weeks each summer is continually questioned as well.   Truthfully, as all parents can agree, there is no way I can fill their summer days.  Our two weeks at the cottage each summer is glorious but there are another 7 weeks to tackle each summer.  When you subtract the weekends, I still have about 40 summer days to plan for without resorting to xBox, Facebook and Rogers On Demand.  At the end of the day, their summer camp days amount to 30 days of 365.  Believe me, the kids seem to multiply on the days we ARE at the cottage, so I think I’m coming out even!

I suppose some might see me as a bad mother that I cannot provide a summer of reading books under shady trees, swinging tires over lazing streams, and daily outings to local fun spots.  However, the camps we have chosen for our children permit no electronics and have neither electricity nor running water in their cabins or tents (while my youngest is in a cabin, the two boys spend the entire month in a tent).  Their month is filled with activities that help them with leadership, confidence and physical challenges beyond what I am capable of providing.  My eldest wrote me recently about his 5-day canoe trip through Algonquin Park with nine other 14-year-olds and 2 counselors.  I am not alone among my friends who would answer, “Glad I didn’t have to do that!”  My other son learned how to use a cross bow and enjoyed jumping off a 50ft cliff (I couldn’t watch either let alone encourage him).  My daughter listened to tales of a self-professed hippie how now bring refurbished guitars to teen runaway centres.  Each of my kids will each return with new and differing achievement levels in swimming, canoeing, archery, cross-bow, wind surfing, ropes courses, climbing walls, camp triathlons, fitness, pottery, painting, long distance swims, horseback riding, among others.  They will take turns clearing their table and sweeping out the tent.  Each day they rise at 7am to communal morning swims and flag raisings.  Every evening they bid each other good night in communal song.  Each Sunday they participate in outdoor nondenominational services and once a week they will sort their clothes to be laundered.  They will try and fail at some challenges, but persevere and succeed at much more.  Though their personal hygiene will no doubt suffer, their personal friendships will prosper.

This is my seventh season of camp preparations, and as I still come to grips with the loneliness of kid-free summer weeks – empty-nest syndrome training (hence, ENST), my husband quips – my standing answer to anyone who questions my parenting on this matter is “I know… I’m jealous too!”

algonquin parkMy entire life I’ve been jealous of friends who went to summer camp.  I wish I could have gone to summer camp.  Going to summer camp seems like the uber ultimate:  being away from your parents, communal living and dining with other kids your age with similar interests and camp counselors to cater to your every emotion and activity.  My own kids go to summer camp.  My daughter recently returned from her annual camp odyssey and I am overjoyed to have her back in my clutches.  I laughed and hung on to every word as she spent the entire three and a half hour car ride home regaling camp stories and singing songs about forging friendships, smoldering campfires and canoe paddles, clean and bright.  I even tried to memorize a few to sing along and pretendI know about the amazing experience from which she’s just returned.  So while she gorged herself on homey treats she was temporarily denied (TV, computer, iPods and ice cream), I tackled her duffle bag – not so clean and bright.  As I listened to her cheerful singing, I couldn’t help pen my own little camp song….

 The Camper’s Return(to the tune of Camptown Races)

My child is home from camp today
Do da do da
Seems not so long she went away
Oh de do da day.

Can’t let her in the house
With feet as black as can be
Hose her down out in the yard
Until her skin, we see.

Then incinerate those socks
Do da do da
Trim those nails and those matted locks
Oh de do da day 

What happened to her shoes?
What happened to her hair?
Where are her toothbrush and her comb?
She doesn’t seem to care.

Her missing clothes were labeled well
Do da do da
And what on earth’s that dreadful smell?
Oh de do da day

“Where’d you get these pants?
Where’d you get this shirt?”
Not sure if I’ll find her yet
‘Neath layers of Algonquin dirt”

…only 14 more days for me to come up with a new diddy when her brothers come home… 

Happy trails.

About Astra
Ottawa mom of 3 poking fun at myself, motherhood, and minor hockey! I am steering through life dodging stinky hockey gear and empty wine bottles.
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