5:00 AM and the alarm clock goes off. I hear the faint voice of a radio announcer giving me the morning news, sports and weather. I see the faint light of sunrise in my window and the house is quiet. It’s time to get up, wake up the family and rush to the airport to send my son off for another summer of overnight camp.
The highway is empty and it is easy to find our way through the maze of parking at the airport at this time of day. The airport is relatively quiet, and we know we are in the right place when we hear the loud din of children and see the commotion of a summer camp trying to get 156 children onto an airplane. There are coloured balloons and, fluorescent t-shirts and even signs, trying to create organization from chaos. Somehow families line up, names and ID are checked, hugs are given and the children are off.
It is a tradition, and I believe a tremendous privilege, for thousands of children each summer across North America, to travel to an overnight summer camp. It is an anomaly to those who have not attended camp or who have not packed up or sent their children.
I believe that overnight summer camp is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give his or her child. It is a wondrous place where kids can just be kids. On the surface, it’s a terrifying thought – hundreds of children running around in the wilderness with a small but reasonable number of “adults” (most aged 18-22) in charge. Do they eat? Shower? Brush their teeth? Do they sleep?
Does it matter?
Whether it’s a one-week camp one hour from the city or in the case of my son, a six-week camp half a country away in central Nova Scotia, it is the best way to enjoy the warm weeks of summer. In Canada children can choose from a large array of camps, from specialty programs like a week of horse back or riding to those that offer a variety of activities for up to six, seven or eight weeks.
My son’s camp, Kadimah, has been hosting children since 1943, giving them a well-rounded memorable experience on the edge of one of Canada’s small beautiful lakes. Thousands of children have grown up there, met their spouses there, sent their children there and now even their grandchildren. My son has six cousins with him at camp this summer and tons of friends that he has made in his few years there.
My son was a bit anxious this morning. After all, camp is over 1,500 km away and he will be away from his parents for six weeks (we will see him in three weeks on visitor’s day but just for a few hours). That’s not it, he told me. He is concerned about being forced to swim every day, to wake up early every day and he will miss his baby sister. Will the baby remember him when she sees him in three weeks? What about his beloved Blue Jays? I assured him the baby will remember him and that I will send him a daily letter with all the scores and sports news he needs.
As he arrives at camp this afternoon and jumps off the bus I know that his anxieties will disappear. One of the greatest moments for a child is that final section of the road up to camp, as you see the cabins and the lake appear. As each child passes through the camp gate and the bus pulls up the stomach flutters and the excitement comes to a crescendo. Summer has begun.
I miss those days and I miss that wonderful feeling of the special arrival at summer camp. Can I go too?