My kids are gone to camp and I am really excited for me...I mean them. Instead of fretting about their safety while they are gone, I choose instead to torture myself with visions of them crying alone in their bunks, walking slowly behind a cheerful group, or hiding in the bathroom for the duration of the dance. To summarize, I worry about them being sad.
Most camps send a list of technical gear needed to ensure the physical wellbeing of your child. Getting kids and parents ready for camp emotionally is an entirely different bag. To make the transition easier on all of us, I try to stay connected using the packing process, mail, and a package or two.
When it comes to packing I only have a few musts. First, no labeled underwear. At age 12, seeing your blueberry-patterned cotton briefs held overhead at a lost and found co-ed campfire is a near death experience. Ask me how I know this.
While discussing the potentially scarring, a period preparation kit is necessary for any preteen girl. On the sweeter side, it is also fun to sneak a small stuffy and welcome note into a camp duffel. I am also a big fan of hiding Smurfs in their toiletry bags.
Once packing is done and they are off, it is time for mail. When writing to potentially homesick kids, it helps to keep it light. Sending a funny news article, comic, or letter from the family dog seems to work well. Recently I've started sending the kids weird postcards, collected from my youthful travels, with notes like: “Sunny Greetings from Guyana!” and “Ahoj from Prague!” The purchase of a camp email package makes it easy, quick and affordable to send your love. In hopes of receiving mail from my campers, I pack preaddressed, stamped notecards and set low expectations. I use permanent stamps because happy and busy kids don’t seem to write home very often. This way I can repack unused note cards the following summer.
A great package from home need not be fancy or expensive. Camp costs enough! To save on postage, choose objects that are light, flat, and crushable. It might be necessary to send care packages before campers leave home, especially if your kids are attending a one week session. Camp mail is not always delivered directly so even if it hits the post office box on time, it may take a while to actually find its way into camp and to your child.
Care packages are a bit harder to construct these days as food is rarely allowed. This saddens my husband as he has fond memories of eating his camper’s treats from home, telling the kids that the raccoons had broken in again.
To avoid last minute panic shopping, I have started to collect items throughout the year. Keep your eyes peeled when shopping for other occasions as most holidays provide a wealth of little goodies to tuck away. Dollar stores, pharmacies, Michaels, and Chapters are excellent places to assemble a package. If you know how many campers are in your child’s cabin, it might be nice to send multiples of small items. This helps to avoid sadness in campers yet to receive mail. On the flip side, having the opportunity to pass out treats to a new group of friends gives a shy child the opportunity to engage.
Below is a list of some of my favorite camp care package items. Happy camping to your campers and cheers to celebrating the silence!
Homesickness played an annual role in my summer camp experience. I really wanted to like camp, but it was a bad fit. I went in my tween and early teen years, which were far from my peak. I was uncoordinated, lacking in muscle tone, and judging from photographic evidence, had skipped the chapter on “Making the Most of Your Features.” I did love camp food, boy watching, and the fashion, however. I always went back to my small town knowing what was in style for fall. Funny, a generous women’s Speedo never seemed to make the list.
My husband was the strong, capable camper/staff member I could only dream about after camp, listening to the Eagles on my Walkman. I refer to him in his camp photos as Blond Jesus. Therefore, when choosing a camp for our kids, I deferred to his former summer haven.
Our three currently attend The Taylor Statten Camps (TSC). Located in Algonquin Park, TSC features Camp Wapomeo for girls and Camp Ahmek for boys. The two camps are positioned one mile apart on beautiful Canoe Lake. Operating since the 1920s, these are Canada’s oldest brother-sister camps and have been run by the Statten family for generations. I have always found the staff to be incredible so I tracked down the directors for some tips on dealing with homesickness.
According to one, explaining to kids in advance that homesickness is normal and short-lived can greatly reduce its duration. Discuss strategies for dealing with sadness at camp like reading a book, talking with a counsellor, or cuddling a loved stuffed animal with your camper before they leave home. Planning will build your child's confidence in their ability to cope, seek support, and triumph.
Parents should remain strong on drop-off day. Lots of parents feel emotional when saying goodbye to their children, but displaying excitement for and confidence in your camper helps them to feel those same things.
Empathize, acknowledge but remind them that this is an amazing opportunity. Parents should always present camp as something that kids get to do instead of something they have to do.
They also suggest getting your children used to staying away from home for a few nights prior to coming to camp. Having camp be the first overnight experience away from parents can be overwhelming for kids.
All three directors believe in the power of positive mail! Parents should send letters and packages in advance so that they reach campers on time. One suggested sending a set of postcards to the camp office for distribution to your camper every other day.
There are a few ways that parents can exacerbate their camper’s potential for homesickness. Telling children they can come home if they are not enjoying camp can prove disastrous. Direct contact by phone can also result in increased sadness. Despite these warnings, communication is recognized as being very important. Ahmek’s director likes to use this strategy: “When working with homesick campers, I often will have them write letters home. I scan and send the letter via email to parents so that there can be an immediate response.”
According to one director, staff expect homesickness, plan for it, and know how to treat it.
Most campers fall in love with their counsellors very quickly. The counsellors are with the campers throughout the day and work hard to get them involved with our many awesome in-camp activities. The bond between the cabin group develops quickly. Being a part of a team that eats, sleeps and plays together all day helps campers to belong, feel supported and comfortable.
There's value in sticking to a solid evening routine. Knowing what to expect is comforting to kids. Brushing teeth together, followed by pajamas and a story helps to wind the day down. Camper bedtime can invite loneliness, so a bedtime story can help. Asking counsellors to sit in a different spot each night gives each camper a chance to feel close and included during story time. Sharing best and worst moments of the day is another way staff can stay in tune with camper emotions. Early morning sadness was addressed at Wapomeo by devising a meeting place with staff and games waiting for lonely, early risers.
Despite all the best planning, sometimes overwhelming homesickness can occur. But these camp directors want parents to remember that one tough summer does not mean that the camp experience needs to be over. She fondly remembers one camper who cried every night but returned the next summer, and later became an excellent staff member.
A few weeks ago my blissful solo drive to the grocery store was interrupted by a story on The Belly Button Challenge. According to reports, this challenge involves illustrating thinness by wrapping an arm around one’s back in an attempt to touch the belly button. Feeling incensed, I decided to further investigate. A recent BBC article on the Belly Button Challenge reveals that, “ A new social media trend has kicked off in China, with thousands of netizens uploading photographs of themselves showing off their bodies and undertaking the challenge.”
A National Post story from 2013 indicates that the challenge is not the first of its kind. “The “thigh gap” measuring practice is an Internet-fuelled trend in which teenage girls and young women pursue an elusive weight-loss goal: to become so slender that their upper thighs don’t touch when their feet are together.”
Despite decades of condemnation, body shaming seems increasingly rampant. The Internet has provided a global platform for endless selfies, rotten advice and opportunities to shame and be shamed. Sadly, it is no surprise that eating disorders are back on the rise.
During university, I read lists of books and wrote countless papers on the media’s objectification of women and societal pressures faced by girls. The topics stirred me academically but not on an emotional level.
However, when I read about similar issues today as a mother, it all feels personal and very threatening. To draw on the teachings of feminist trailblazer Virginia Woolf, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
As the mom of a female tween I am terrified of these looming pressures. One of the most anxiety provoking jobs parents face is trying to ensure that their kids are fed well. We stay up all night trying to get them to nurse or take a bottle. We rejoice as they move to solids and feel elated each time a new fruit or vegetable is added to the repertoire. As my kids grow towards adolescence, I can see the impact that food has on their ability to cope with days of learning and sports. One only has to hemorrhage so much money at Costco before realizing the amount of fuel an active little person requires. We actually have a sign in the bathroom that reads, “I am sorry for what I said when I was hungry.”
It infuriates me that social media might have the ability to work against all of my efforts by encouraging my daughter not to eat at a time when every bit of nutrition is needed most. To encourage her to be tiny, shaky, weak, distracted, irritable, teary and tired for the sake of meeting worthless societal expectations. To slow her down, make her less and unable to compete. Right at a moment when she believes she could do or be anything in a world where she is still far from equal.
I think of her goals and how many calories of healthy food it will take to fulfill them. I love watching her beautiful, sleepy, blue eyes open to eggs frying before an early swim practice. I love watching her pace the pool deck before a race, chewing on her goggle strap. I love the tea and honey she drinks studying and passing her a smoothie on the way to school. I feel comforted meeting these needs, just like when she was a baby.
Tween and teens are especially vulnerable when it comes to trends like the Belly Button Challenge. According to Family Physician Dr. Jennifer Chan, the tween and teen years are a time where identity develops and children begin looking for a sense of self outside of their family: “Kids of this age are looking to emulate someone and they need role models who are more than just physical pictures pressuring them to be thin. We need to provide them with athletic, brainy and strong examples of leaders who require ample high-quality calories for their success.”
Speaking of awesome role models, I truthfully was hoping that amazing women like Vicki Keith, Rebel Wilson, Lena Dunham, Venus Williams and Megan Trainor would have taken care of body image problems long before my daughters came of age. I think it was a bit too much to ask. So I am helping out by collecting some tips and compiling a list of ways we can help our girls to navigate the body image mire. I am not foolish enough to believe that a list could prevent the body image vampire from sucking the passion from my daughter but completing tasks like this should help my idle hands from wringing too much during the coming years.
Here are my tips for promoting a healthy body image:
When my daughter started wanting to weigh herself, I told her that the scale was for weighing luggage and promptly moved it to a scary corner in the basement.
I don’t know if shaking my jelly to Bootylicious will help my daughter to embrace her body but it does get morning smiles and feels fantastic.
There are so many amazing videos online illustrating how photos can be manipulated with Photoshop and other tools. Oh, and please tell your girls that experts deem both the Belly Button Challenge and Thigh Gap to be completely inaccurate measurements of health. In most cases, both are impossible to achieve without the help of Dr. Frankenstein.
Time to stop buying the magazines. You know the ones. And don’t judge me when I am reading them in line.
Someone once told me that children should think of food as being gas for their car. They should strive to fill their tank with the highest quality fuel, leaving room for a treat or two.
It is so great for strength, the mind, heart and body.
I hope that my daughter will be able to grasp how quickly these image-focused years will pass and understand how much could be lost by being weak and hungry during such an important time. Feeling attractive will always matter but gratitude for love, health and being alive will eventually trump all else. In the words of my grandmother, “A great laugh is the prettiest thing, with just a touch of hot pink lipstick.”