“Who’s ready to go to camp?!” Howard bellows, carrying bag after bag from our house and jamming them into the trunk of our mini-van. You would think we were leaving for a month instead of two nights, two hours from our home.
“Camp! Camp! Camp!” My three boys march in their underwear chanting with glee. It’s kind of ironic since the boys just finished up day-camp, where they tried more often than not to have days off, as if I were sending them to work the fields instead of to play and swim all day.
Typically, my boys are all too happy to stay and play at our toy-infested, warm cookie-smelling, friend-filled house. On a regular basis, they snub both Howard’s and my overtures for activity. Entreats for playing ball in the park are met with rolled eyes and cranky fits. We never go to movies, because my kids would rather sit in the den, watch a DVD and have me serve them popcorn. When we went to Disney World and rode the mono-rail, four year-old Julius kept asking if it would take us back to Long Island.
I still recall with horror our recent trip to Great Adventure. Hundreds of dollars, a spectacle everywhere you turn and the first thing seven year-old Michael asked was, “Does it have Wifi?” Then, “Can we just get cotton candy and go home?”
What have I done to these children?
“Do we have a lot more stuff?” Howard calls up, and in answer I throw down a giant garbage bag filled with sheets and blankets. “Do we need all this?” he asks, a little annoyed.
“Nah, you can sleep on all the baseball bats and balls you took.”
Howard grumbles and drags the bag to the car.
It’s Labor Day weekend, and for the fifth year in a row, we’re heading to sleep-away camp.
There, with 25 other families, 23 of which we barely know, we will sleep in bunks that feel like styrofoam covered in vinyl. We will share bathrooms with families we are close with but not THAT close. We will wear ratty sweats and flip flops, eat food in the mess hall I would never eat in the outside world, and drink at inappropriate times while our children, who are not allowed to play alone on our front lawn, run wild.
There is a lake and nightly bonfires. The children are dirty and out at all hours. They carry walkie-talkies and flashlights. They play basketball, baseball, Gaga, and volleyball. They just hang out, and the parents do the same.
The first couple of years, I had a hard time getting with the program. Of course, my kids were younger, so Howard and I trailed their every move and were exhausted by night fall, falling into a miserable, uncomfortable sleep with our boys. But as they grew, they wanted more independence like the other kids, so I painstakingly doled out bits of freedom like M&M’s. I admit it. I worry. I like them with me. I want to hug them all the time. And then I want them to go away, but just to the other room.
“Let’s go!” Howard, true to form, is at the door shouting at us to hurry.
The boys, usually excruciatingly slow to respond, jump to attention.
“Uh boys? Your clothes?”
They fall over in a fit of giggles and put on the shorts and tee-shirts I’ve left out for them. One 10 year-old, who shall remain nameless, put his shirt on backwards.
Julius tugs at me. “I’m hungry.”
“Didn’t you just have a bowl of cereal?” Howard asks.
“I’ve got snacks for the car.” I whisper and Howard looks up to the sky for help.
“Okay, ready.” I confirm, lugging a duffle filled with clothes, my 40 pound ‘let’s make a deal’ bag, all while balancing a bottle of Chardonnay under my arm.
Julius jumps up around my waist. “Snack! Snack!”
“Out!” I command, and they all race willy-nilly, tumble-bumble and cram themselves into the car.
We’re not on the road five minutes before the appeal for snacks start up again. I pass out some granola bars (Howard is the first to take one.)
“So, you guys excited?” I ask.
“Yes!” Tyler enthusiastically nods.
“Are we almost there?” Michael asks.
I ignore that. We left five minutes ago.
“So do you think you guys would ever want to go to real sleep-away camp?”
I hold my breath. Say no. Say no.
“No way.” Tyler answers conclusively.
“I like us all going together.” Michael pipes in.
“I’d go if you could come.” Julius adds, not quite getting it.
“Whew.” I think and settle back for the long ride.
For us, sleep-away camp is something we do as a family. I hope we never outgrow it.