I just dropped my boy off for his week of Magic Camp at the local Y. He is 7, and not exactly excited to be at the Y for another week. Maybe it’s our Y, or maybe this is common to all YMCA camps, but our kids have decided that Y Camp is glorified childcare. The descriptions of the camps look great, but inside, it’s a lot of time-filling, or at least that’s the way it seems to them.
When I was that age, I didn’t go to many camps. I did attend a Catholic day camp a few summers where we had to take a bus a fews million verses of “100 bottles of beer on the wall” away. I have vague memories of a few bullies, but mostly of epic games of Kick the Can, shooting a 22 for the first time, and eating saltines and peanut butter after a swim in the lake. The “pain,” if any, was the newness, the pulling away from my family, a warm spot near the TV, and the fear of uncomfortable silences in new situations.
My son was malingering this morning. He complained about sore feet and tried to stretch out tying his shoes so that we would be late. Even when we arrived, he hoped the shortage of nearby parking might mean he could get a pass, at least for today. I walked him in though, and he took his place in the big crowd of uneasy campers singing camp cheers. I stood there for a few minutes watching him as he tried to put on the mantel of camp spirit worn already by some of this peers. I waved to let him know I was leaving and he bit his lip and raised his little hand halfway to say goodbye.
It may be even harder to leave a 7 year old than it is to leave a 3 year old. The older they get the more you can identify with their fears, their insecurities, and their dislike for tedium. A hard thing about this phase is learning to separate yourself from them, even as you are teaching them to separate from you. In the end, he may not like this camp, and may not make friends all week long, returning every day to state that he doesn’t want to go back. Hopefully, in the experience, there is some training on sticking it out in uncomfortable situations, and maybe even, magically,learning to have a good time.