Summer vacation looms large in a child’s life, pretty much no matter where you grow up or what your summer vacation looks like.
To celebrate the range of wonderful summer experiences out there, the Sassy Mama team will be sharing our own fond summer memories from childhoods spent on five different continents. Look out for a new summertime reflection from the Sassy Mama team every Friday through July and August, mamas! Today: Our Editor Kate reflects on her totally classic American summer camp experience – and why she can’t wait for her daughter to have the same.
When I was 6, I went off for the first time to Waukeela Camp for Girls in the mountains of New Hampshire, near where my family had a summer home. My parents sent me as a day camper, but within a week I insisted that I needed to live in a cabin with the other kids during the four-week session.
As an only child, I was thrilled to suddenly be surrounded by other girls of all ages. We sang silly songs at every meal, I got to do fun activities like pottery, arts & crafts, and horseback riding, and we went swimming not once but twice a day on our oh-so-picturesque lake.
I first went to camp in the summer of 1988, and in many ways it wasn’t that different from the hilarious, gonzo movie Wet Hot American Summer, which is also set at a New England summer camp in the 1980s (my camp wasn’t co-ed, however).
Each day started with a bugler waking us to Reveille, followed by flag-raising. As campers we got up to all sorts of hijinx, much to the chagrin of our often exasperated and exhausted counselors (university students from both the U.S. and abroad). We had color wars, dances with our brother camp across the lake, and talent shows. We even had wacky guys in the kitchen, just like in the movie.
Camp was actually a first taste for me of the international, multi-cultural setting of Singapore. Over the years I had cabin-mates and counselors from Venezuela, Germany, the U.K., Holland, Australia, India, Morocco and even Kazakhstan. It was all so different from my rather homogenous hometown, and each year during the long winter I’d enjoy writing letters to all my friends who lived in different states and countries.
Living in a rustic cabin (we had electricity, but no plumbing) with four or five other people teaches you a lot about cooperation and respecting other people’s spaces. It also made for countless card games, lip syncs, dress-up fashion shows, and pranks on both our counselors and other cabins.
Over my 10 years at camp I developed a core group of friends, many of whom I’m still close with today. Despite growing up in the time before email or social media, we always managed to keep in touch over the winters, and each June when we returned to camp it was as if no time had passed at all.
At camp, free of the social pressures and academic stresses of school, I always felt like I could be my real self. Yes there was some cliqueness, but when you all have to work together to pitch a tent and cook dinner on an overnight hike, or clean up your cabin in exchange for an ice cream party, all that stuff seemed to fade away.
A couple years ago I returned to camp for a brief visit, and was delighted to see how very little had actually changed. The girls still do the same activities, still sing the same ridiculous songs at all their meals (I’ve found these are fantastic for entertaining toddlers, as well), and still live in the same wooden cabins where we’d write our names on the wall at the end of each summer.
I was also thrilled to see that there’s a no-electronic-devices rule, meaning teens and preteens actually go the whole summer without cell phones and social media. Amazing!
When I visited I brought along Maggie, who was just over a year old at the time. I nearly cried as I watched her joyfully climb over the rocks and roots and curiously open the cabins’ screen doors. She’s got a few years to go before she’s old enough for camp, and of course I’d only send her if she wanted to go, but deep down I think it’s in her blood to be a camp girl. Not to mention, two of my best friends from camp also have daughters the same age; despite the fact that we all live in different corners of the globe, I look forward to the day when they, too, can form the same unique bond under Waukeela’s tall pine trees.