I remember the first time I went to camp. I was terrified. Heading off on the bus to a wilderness camp in the Manitoba desert had seemed like a good idea when we registered, but once it was upon me, it seemed more like a huge mistake.
Ten days later, when my mother picked me up one bus stop earlier than I had anticipated, I was livid. Camp was everything and I was in no way prepared to say goodbye. I had experienced independence, friendship, life-changing ministry, excellent leadership, terrible table manners and bobbing for hotdogs in green jello, which feels just as strange as it sounds. Camp had forever stolen my heart.
This summer, our 7-year-old son had his first week of overnight camp at Camp Kwasind. To make his (and his parents’) transition to camp easier, we decided to volunteer, spending a week in the dish pit in the camp kitchen. We were there to give it a try and see how he did, but as much as possible to let him have some independence and freedom.
And here’s what happened:
“…” (I didn’t really get a quote from him beyond a “Hi, mom.” He was very busy…)
What we observed? He made a new friend. He also discovered the tuck shop and the money we’d put in his account for him. As he’s more accustomed to hearing no than yes regarding treats, this was particularly exciting. It’s also important to note that the camp limits purchases to three things/day. This is a very good idea.
“Hi mom! Can I come in the kitchen? What are you doing? I got to go to the tuck shop today and got THREE THINGS!!! And I lost my toothbrush.”
Things were going well. He was definitely enjoying himself. He also wore pyjamas to supper.
“I want to go home. It’s raining. Everything is horrible. Everyone was mean to me. I want to leave now. Can we leave now?”
Despite a rough start to the day, due to too much social interaction and acute sleep deprivation, later in the afternoon he commenced the construction of a sandcastle, which led to a large group building project. Things were looking up.
“Camp is the best. I am never leaving. I love camp. Can we please come back next week? I am having the best time and I never want to go home.”
During the worship and teaching time that evening, we couldn’t pick him out of the throng of kids. Just before assuming he had fled the premises, we located him at the front, singing his heart out with the band and listening to the speaker with rapt attention. As my daughter would say, “Our invisible buckets were overflowing.”
“Why can’t I come back next week? What do you mean they’re full?! I could come by myself on the bus. You and dad can stay home. Can I come back next year? Let’s just stay here, okay?”
That day he went in the lake in his clothes because getting his swimsuit on seemed like a chore. The game they were playing was simply too exciting to miss. Who can be bothered to wear a swimsuit if it means missing a moment of bucket ball?
At this point, with camp wrapping up the next morning, we watched him laughing and talking with his cabin group while they inhaled food. And while the camp activities were great, I still suspect that chief amongst his camp thrills was when anyone had a birthday. There’s something about watching treasured leaders get pitched off a dock that speaks volumes of joy in a child’s soul.
After goodbyes were said… “Mom, Dad, can I come back next year for the whole summer? I love this place.”
So with dishpan hands and full hearts, we completed our week of volunteering and our son’s first week of camp. With a few bumps along the way, we are confident that he has been thoroughly and successfully launched into the world of summer camp and has already informed us that he doesn’t need us to come along next year. We are excited for the many ways that camp ministry will build his faith and self-confidence in the years to come.