Monday, May 5, 2008

Humor Me: You'll love summer camp ... really!

By MATT WIXON

The parent-child bond is rarely stronger than when the summer-camp
bus pulls out of the parking lot. Children press their faces
against the windows and flash teary eyes that ask, "How can you do
this to me?"

Let's see, where should parents start? There's the fruit punch
stain on the carpet and the broken window in the living room.
There's the T-shirt that got flushed down the toilet and the dent
in the wall from a game of indoor baseball. And can somebody please
explain how a chair from the kitchen table ended up in the pool?

Yes, parents have their reasons to pack the kids off to Camp
Idontwannago. And now is the time to start planning where to send your kids. Or so I'm told. I'm not an expert on this because my kids are too young for camp.

But I do know this:

Camp is supposed to be fun, not punishment. So when departure
day arrives, and some kids act like it's more punishment than
privilege, parents naturally worry.

They worry that their child will get lonely. They worry that their
child will get lost. They worry that their child will get lonely,
then lost, then bitten by a snake coiled in poison ivy in a
flash-flood area near a dangerous ledge.

Relax, parents. Your children will have a great time. They'll
ride horses, tell stories around the campfire and learn how
to steer canoes. Either that or they'll get lost and really get in touch with nature as a search party is organized.

I'm kidding, of course. As a camp counselor during my teenage
years, I don't recall ever losing a camper. We lost at least one
sock each day, a pair of shoes per week, and during the course of a summer, several comic books and a couple of asthma inhalers. But we never lost a whole person - unless you count counselors, who sometimes
discovered midway through camp that they must have lost their minds
to accept such a job.

For kids, however, camp is usually fantastic. Whether they go to a
sports camp, fine-arts camp, computer camp or wilderness camp, they
make new friends and memories that last a lifetime.

My wife, for example, went to a gymnastics camp and will never forget when a fellow camper hit her on the head with a flashlight during a fight
over who would sleep on the top bunk. She also got sick on the last
day, took medicine that turned her tongue black and thought she was
dying. But other than that, she reports that camp was a good
experience.

She also learned a lot, which is an integral part of every camp.
Summer campers learn independence (no parents to cling to), bravery
(trying to find the bathroom at night) and ingenuity (how to lather
up some fun by puncturing a shaving-cream bottle with a needle and
throwing it into another cabin). These are important skills each
camper will use in the future, or at least in his or her first week
of college.

Unfortunately, some camps are very expensive, which makes it hard
on parents. Prices in the thousands are not unusual, and camps
don't ease the burden by advertising "FREE CAMP T-SHIRT PROVIDED"
in their pamphlets. For $4,000, a free T-shirt better not be the
highlight of camp. I would think each camper would get several
T-shirts, some shorts and an extra pair of shoes, which would come
in handy. Shoes just seem to disappear during camp and -- don't ask
me how -- are often found stuck in high branches of trees.

The price is something to consider, but parents should remember
that summer camp memories are priceless for kids. And when camp
ends, and your child comes running to you with one shoe missing and
no sock on the other foot, calling your name and proudly waving a
ceramic dish made especially for you, is there anything more
priceless than that?

How about this: A few weeks of not hauling anyone to the movies or
discovering a kitchen chair floating in the pool.

***
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