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What Happened When My Daughter Went to Sleepaway Camp for the First Time

What Happened When My Daughter Went to Sleepaway Camp for the First Time

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

This post by SLC alumna Nancy Johnson Horn, was originally posted on The Mama Maven blog.

In 2019 I sent my daughter to the sleepaway camp that I went to when I was a child and that I was staff at for many years. She was ten at at the time. What sparked my decision? One of her classmates was attending for the five day session called “Get Your Feet Wet” and I figured maybe my daughter would go to camp because her classmate, C, was going. To my immense surprise my daughter said yes. Both my daughter and her older brother had always turned me down when I brought up sleepaway camp before. Not interested and they didn’t even want to go up with me for Alumni Day. They didn’t care that I started there myself in 1982. They didn’t care that my brother was a camper and was staff there. They didn’t care that my grandfather, my uncle, and my great uncle also went there. But this time it was different. My daughter wanted to go to sleepaway camp.

The Get Your Feet Wet program (for kids 6 -10) price was reasonable and I figured, what the heck! I knew the people who were in charge of the program (one of them was very close to one of my closest friends and another was actually my camper when she was 11 and 12). I was definitely more nervous than my daughter was.

Even though I had been a camper at this camp and then staff for many years, plus a very active alumna — as I drove her up through the camp gates, I got nervous. What if she couldn’t make friends? What if she hated camp? What if she hated me for “making her go?” What if she never wanted to return? This camp is one of my favorite places in the world and I didn’t think I could bear it if she hated it.

My thoughts were valid, but they all started hitting me at once as I pulled into camp. How could I leave my baby girl for five whole days? Other than being at my in-laws’ house or with my mother, we had never been apart for so long before. Camp made it very easy for me and gently extracted her from my minivan and helped me to check her in. I was urged to give her a kiss and get going (though it was done very nicely). Suddenly I found myself driving down the camp road, my eyes surprisingly filling with tears. I didn’t expect to have such a reaction to bringing my daughter to sleepaway camp. Although I knew she was an independent and capable kid, the last year had been a really hard one for my family and giving her this opportunity was a big one. She deserved to have the best time.

Over the next few days I worried more. I kept stalking (I mean scanning) the camp photo site looking for pictures of my girl. Analyzing her facial expressions. Was she happy? Did she meet anyone? Oh look, she’s sitting with the counselor and it looks like her hair was braided (guessing by the counselor). I made myself even crazier! I messaged my friend (who was the camp main photographer). He assured me my daughter was fine. I chatted with the mother of the classmate, who was also stalking the photos. I will totally admit that I did get a little nutty.

On day five I went up to camp with my two sons to attend a day at camp and pick my daughter up. My daughter was happy, tired, and needed a good hair brushing. Oh the tangles (which again, her norm).

She not only liked camp, but now LOVED camp. She made friends, she lost her voice from singing too much, she knew jokes and cheers… She got to eat the food she liked (she doesn’t eat meat, only fish and vegetarian options). Camp always had an option she liked at the salad bar. She was thrilled.

It was a success. I exhaled. What I didn’t expect was that she asked to go back!

So I put a deposit down after calling my husband. She is going back this summer for the first session. And yes, I will definitely be stalking the camp photo site again. I may even be a bit crazy. But this time, I’ll be a little more relaxed, knowing that my precious girl is in good hands at Surprise Lake Camp. I can’t promise I won’t stalk the camp photo site, but at least I know she will be fine. Even if I’m a mess again.