This post is presented in partnership with YMCA Camp Kern. This mama and her kiddo are beyond grateful for the amazing experience and can’t wait for more summer camp adventures to come!
Overnight camp feels like a rite of passage. Virtually everyone I grew up with had this experience at one time or another… and even now, every year as I scroll through social media, I see pictures of my friend’s kids being dropped off for camp. Until this year, I hadn’t really considered it for my own children, but after hearing rave reviews about the YMCA Camp Kern experience, I decided to take a risk and let go of control (because, yes, that is what it felt like to me) for one week out of the summer and see what would happen.
My oldest, Nora, is a blessing to this world we live in. I know I am biased because I am her mother, but seriously… she is one of those genuinely caring and joyful souls, for which I honestly feel like I maybe get about 10% of the credit. But, mamas, let me tell you… that girl would forget her own head if it wasn’t screwed on tight. She is carefree and excited most of the time which results in not thinking things all the way through, forgetting things, and requiring constant reminders to do simple things like brush her hair and teeth.
Because of these two things, (her sensitive spirit and her flightiness), I had concerns about sending her to camp. I spent the weeks leading up to the experience labeling things, making lists, and reviewing things with her so she could be “on her own” for the week. I worried about the bullies and about whether or not she would eat anything healthy. It was about 7 days before her trip when I looked at her excited face (and boy was she excited) that I realized I needed to let go a little bit so that she could have the amazing experience she was dreaming about. I sighed and looked at her and told her; “You know what? The most important thing this week is that you are kind and you have fun. So, if you forget everything else I have been telling you… remember those two things, brush your teeth, and I will be happy.” She grinned.
I know that keeping her with me is about me and my needs and not about her and her needs.
So, she went to camp and I spent the week combing the online picture interface for a glimpse of her sweet face and forced myself to concentrate on how amazing this time away would be for her own growth and independence from her mama.
And she spent the week having the absolute time of her life. But, more on that in a minute.
Let me break here to tell you a bit about YMCA Camp Kern.
The YMCA has operated Camp Kern since 1910 and year after year, local kids get to experience a week (or more) of electronic free, messy, play hard days that, let’s face it, just don’t exist in today’s world the same way it used to. For that reason alone, I think a week of overnight camp is worth it.
From registration through pick up, I was impressed with and reassured by the efficiency and communication on behalf of the YMCA Camp Kern staff. I feel like, without this piece, I would have been a bigger ball of nerves than I actually was. But, the staff at the YMCA Camp Kern was incredible at answering emails and questions. My Type A personality especially loved the Parent Planner that was sent out when we registered. I read it from front to back several times over. It made me feel like I was prepared and therefore that SHE was prepared for her week at camp, including a very simple “what to pack” list for which I am eternally grateful. Additionally, there was a reminder email with some key points sent one week before she was supposed to arrive and an extra special touch came in the form of a call from her counselor for the week the night before, reminding us yet again about a few key items and some kind words that she was looking forward to the week. Nora thought that was really cool.
We opted into the Traditional Camp Explorer experience and I did choose to do some of the add-on experiences. For her age range, that meant she got to take a canoe trip and do some horseback riding. One of the things I really liked is that they do tailor the offerings based on camp experience and age-range. This makes it possible to send your kid, year after year, and make it a different experience with different challenges and opportunities for personal growth.
The hardest part for me was not being able to hear her voice and check in on her, (again, that is about me and my needs and not hers), but it did help that they have a website to which they upload pictures throughout the week. It was a day behind, but being able to find her face in the crowd at the opening night bonfire and to see her with some new friends made it easier for me.
When I returned a week later to pick her up, I was admittedly teary watching her run towards me for that hug. Man, I missed that sweet face! After hearing a little bit about their week at camp from the counselors, we grabbed her belongings and the ride home was full of stories and memory sharing, and an immediate ask to return next summer. I asked her what her favorite part was and her answer:
It was all so amazing… I really loved the Big Swing because it felt like you were flying, but Mom, it really was all just so great.
I am of course relieved that she had such a great time, but ultimately as I mentioned earlier, this week was about allowing her some space to grow… and that she did.
Lessons Learned: Kid Edition
- She learned she can take care of her basic needs “without mom”. She showered, brushed her teeth (yay!), and managed to wear new clean clothes each day.
- She learned she can develop her own strategies for how she does things in life.
- She learned she can do hard things. She is a social kid, but the idea of not knowing anyone was still a bit intimidating in the beginning, but she faced it head-on and made new friends because of it.
- She learned that in trying new experiences can come great reward. She got to experience new adventures this week that she otherwise would not have if she hadn’t gone to camp.
- She learned there is so much joy to be had in community and developing relationships with the people and the world around you.
- She learned this dance.
However, she isn’t the only one who grew a little this week…
Lessons Learned: Mom Edition
- I learned it’s okay for me to let go of a little control. I don’t consider myself a helicopter parent, but arguably she is and has been capable of more than I “let” her do on a daily basis. Since she has been home, she has been asserting herself more and telling me “Mom, I did this for an entire week without you… I’ve got it.” (Cue the mama tears here, but she is right.)
- I learned it’s fun to watch your child grow up. I am in no hurry for my kids to leave the house, but it’s incredible to see them push themselves and take steps towards becoming grown people who will have a place in this world.
- I learned that I too can do hard things. Showing up and trusting the staff at Camp Kern with my oldest child wasn’t easy, but I am glad I did (and grateful that the staff made it easy to do so that day.)
- I learned that seeing joy on your child’s face is everything. I knew this one, but watching her sweet smile as she told all of her stories was a great reminder.
On Saturday morning, when I picked up my sweet Nora, the director of summer programming remarked to our group of parents about how much she enjoys watching each camper grow a little during the camp. I can’t speak for the rest of Camp Kern, but I do know that my favorite camper and I are definitely better for the experience and we are already looking forward to many more YMCA Camp Kern summers to come!