Not everybody loves the summer camp experience -- especially not at first. It can take a while to adjust to the different routine: Key players on the home team are suddenly gone, communicating with them is anything but easy and the rhythm of daily life is turned upside down. It's enough to cause sleepless nights, interminably long days and buckets of tears.
And on top of all that, your kid might not like camp, either.
But the truth is your little darling is likely to fare a lot better than you. Along with pages of forms and instructions, most camps send information on how to minimize the risk of your kid getting homesick. The whole process of preparing for camp -- from shopping for the millions of items on the packing list, to losing several IQ points while writing your kid's name in Sharpie on every last item down to her dental floss to figuring out the Rubix cube solution to making everything fit in her trunk -- helps prepare your kid mentally and emotionally for shipping off.
Meanwhile, once your kid gets to camp she has new surroundings, adventures and friends to distract her from missing the comforts of home. And in the event that she does get homesick, there is a team of camp staffers with the training and experience to help her through it.
You should be so lucky. You're left all alone in a house with an extra chair at the dining room table and an empty bed in your kid's bedroom as a constant reminder that your little angel is gone. And there isn't even the occasional pair of dirty pink socks left on the kitchen counter to make you miss her just a little bit less.
Oh, sure, it's funny to picture: Desperate grown-ups running to the mailbox every day to see if their kid bothered to write, then slipping into a deep depression when they only find the customary junk mail and bills rather than that an undersized Hello Kitty envelope adorned with adorably awkward handwriting.
But take it from me -- or better yet, take it from my boyfriend who had the misfortune of living with me while my daughter was at camp -- kid-sickness is no joke.
And while there are plenty of resources that help kids with homesickness, there are precious few that are designed to help when it's the parent who's having a hard time.
Inspired by my own personal struggle this summer, I have developed the following survival plan to get you through even the most severe case of kid-sickness. Follow these rules and you'll feel better before you get the next demand letter from your kid rattling off the items she needs you to ship to her immediately, as in, "like, yesterday!"
1. Whose idea is it anyway? Before you send your kid to summer camp, ask yourself honestly whether this is something that your kid really wants to do or whether you're trying to relive your own childhood or create the childhood experience you always wanted but never had. Traditional summer camp isn't for everyone. And just because you think it's an essential part of growing up doesn't mean that your kid does, too. To increase the chance that your kid will have a good experience, make sure this is something she's really interested in doing.
2. Do your homework. Research the camps together and pick one that both of you feel really good about. If you get invited to a meeting for prospective campers at someone's house, go. Find out if the camp has an open house weekend in the spring. Talk to other parents and get their opinions of the various camps. Once you've chosen a camp, talk to your kid and see if she would like to go by herself or if she wants to coordinate with a friend. There are pros and cons to each and what's best for your kid largely depends on her personality.
3. Trust your judgment. Once you pick a camp, don't second guess your decision. Take comfort in knowing that you did your research carefully. Remember all the positive accounts that other parents gave you of their kids' experiences at this camp. Rest assured that the staffers all know what they're doing. When your kid gets home from camp and gives you her firsthand account of things, then you can update your opinion. But until then, relax.
4. If you get an S.O.S. letter (or twenty), don't panic. Know this: This is not the first case of homesickness that the camp staffers have had to deal with. They want your kid to have fun -- not only because they are really nice, but also because the camp's reputation and success depend on it. It's okay to call the office -- once or twice. But the point of the call is for you to reassure yourself that they're aware that your kid is homesick, not to tell them how to handle it. A secondary reason is to pass along information you think they might not otherwise know. For example, if your kid said in her letter she's having trouble making friends or is tied up in knots over an upcoming swim test, passing along that information can help take the guess work out of the counselor's job.
5. Cool it on the care packages. One or two care packages are more than enough. Additionally, write less, not more -- both in terms of frequency and length. A letter every other day, or even every third day, is plenty. This is especially true if other people are going to be writing letters and sending care packages to your little angel. Your kid needs some emotional space to settle into camp, and you need time to think about something other than how much you miss your precious baby and how many more days are left until you get to pinch those adorable little cheeks again.
6. Stay occupied -- but don't make it a foreign occupation. You are paying a hefty sum for your kid to have enriching experiences and a heaping helping of summer fun. But in the bargain, you are also getting an opportunity to do things you might not otherwise have a chance to do, especially if you don't have other kids at home. Take full advantage. Make dinner plans with friends. Dig into projects that you have been putting off. Take a small trip. All of these things will help pass the time pleasantly. But if you are even the teeniest bit kid-sick, don't leave the country. There's nothing like traveling to a distant land to transform a mild case of missing your kid into a full-blown outbreak of kid-sickness. And then you can kiss any chance of enjoying your exotic vacation bon voyage.
7. Don't "rescue" your kid. No matter how kid-sick you are and how many homesick letters you get from your kid, don't succumb to the urge to hop in your car and get your little angel before the camp term is over. As tempted as you might be, doing so will only rob your kid of the opportunity to learn all of the lessons that camp has to offer. Your kid is learning and growing in ways she can't when she's with you, even if -- no, especially if -- she's homesick. Don't be the kind of parent who robs your kid of her chance to learn just so you can feel better.
There may not be a cure for the summer time blues yet, but thanks to the painful lessons I learned last month and the guidelines I developed as a result, at least now it is possible for you to survive the summer camp blues. You're welcome.