My parents always say that the best thing they ever did for me was sending me to sleepaway camp. At eight years old, they put me on a bus with another girl who was also going to camp for the first time (still my best friend) and waved to me through the window as the bus pulled out of the parking lot and started the hour and a half drive to Wurtsboro. Honestly, it feels like that was last week. But it wasn't. And ten years later (and unfortunately now an official sleepaway camp has been) I'm still absolutely in love with camp. There is nothing in the world that offers the experiences that you gain from saying bye to your parents, your air conditioned bedroom and electronics for the summer. Seven weeks (give or take) may sound short; but trust me, those summers spent in sauna-esque bunks, sporting Soffee shorts and sugar lip tank tops felt like they would last forever.
Just to play devil's advocate, I totally get the people who don't understand sleepaway camp. Do these kids' parents not like them? Who doesn't want to see their kid for weeks at a time? What kind of parent puts their kid into a bunk with no air conditioning for the summer, and makes them send letters to communicate? I mean this isn't the 1800's, cell phones are magical things. So if you're reading this and rolling your eyes because I'm one of those crazy sleepaway camp kids, let me tell you, I've gained more from summers spent at my home away from home than I have from anything else in my life.
It goes without saying that the fully developed sense of independence that you gain from being away from your parents for weeks at a time, no matter how young, is unique in itself. At eight in the morning, I was waking up in the morning, making my bed, and doing my hair (of course, it went straight into a perfectly styled messy bun). At nine I was able to pack a bag with whatever stuff I needed for the day, based on the schedule my counselor read to me. By the time I was ten I was sitting on the floor with my bunkmates separating our laundry into whites and colors. All this time I was learning, without my parents there to guide me. Of course, they were most excited about my ability to clean a sink off (shout out to the infamous job wheel for forcing me to learn that one), but it's just another example of what I learned to do without my parents. I was totally fine not seeing them. When I got older and the topic of college started to approach, it went without question that I was not even considering staying home. I was ready to go away to school because I knew how to do so many things without my parents, things I had learned in camp.
Arguably the most helpful skills I gained from going to camp were, and continue to be, my strong communication skills. And yes, this happened, despite my lack of ability to communicate with electronics for weeks at a time. I learned how to live with people who I like, who I dislike, and who I barely know. At the time, my twelve year old self didn't think that my ability to diffuse an argument, peacefully coexist with people I couldn't stand, or to talk to someone about how they made me feel, (obviously feeling left out when your friend doesn't want to be your swim buddy is nothing to take lightly) was all that important. But now, as an eighteen-year-old away at college, I'm basically counting my lucky stars that I'm capable of communicating so easily. I can discuss rationally with someone how to best situate ourselves (shout out to my awesome roommate) living together in a limited space.
A huge aspect of sleepaway camp is being part of a community made up of a wide range of age groups. From the youngest campers to the senior staff, everyone knows each other. You spend all day walking around and saying hi to people you probably met last week at an elective, or over the salad bar at lunch. There are old counselors who I still stay in touch with, and as a former counselor, my old campers still stay in touch with me. I always hug old group leaders and senior staff when I see them because some of them were truly my parents for all of those summers. My younger brother who still goes to camp has also formed strong relationships with the people who take care of him and continues to do so each summer. There is no other environment where such strong relationships between people of such varying ages exist.
However, what I am most grateful for after ten summers spent at sleepaway camp are the friendships I made that will last forever. The people I continue to talk to are going to be part of my life forever. They are the family of brothers and sisters that I go to in good times and bad. We have grown up spending summers together, and have all seen each other at our best and worst. We are spread across the country now, all away at college. Five in New York, one in Colorado, three in Pennsylvania, one in North Carolina, two in Texas, one in Wisconsin, one in Florida, and still they are home to me. There aren't words to explain the feeling of the pure love you have for the people who you spent every second with during those summers under the sun. But it is everlasting and unlike any other friendship, you'll ever have-I know that much to be true.
I could seriously go on for another ten pages talking about how being a sleepaway camp kid changed my life for the better. It's permanently part of who I am, and it will absolutely continue to be for a very long time. There is nothing I can thank my parents for more than for sending me to camp for all of those years because they and I both know it is what shaped me into who I am today.