My two oldest boys are about to come home from overnight camp. Having done the whole camp thing for about four years now, I am fully aware of the extent to which their duffels will stink, the need to immediately repack the bags for next year with the “camp stuff” (trust me), and not to freak out when a lot of stuff has mysteriously gone missing.
For those of you new to the overnight camp experience, though, I thought I’d give you a few words of warning/guidance–sort of like a “What to Expect When You’re Expecting (Your Kid Home From Camp.)”
Spoiler alert: It might not be what you think.
1. Reentry is tough.
My kids go to their dad’s every other weekend, and even ten years into this divorce thing, my husband and I still refer to those Mondays when they come back as “reentry.” When you learn how to live in one place–whether it’s your former spouse’s or camp–and then come back, it’s hard, no matter how happy you are to see each other (you and the kid, not you and your former spouse).
It’s hard for the kid, and sometimes that is expressed in not-the-kindest ways. Sometimes it’s even hard for you as the parent— maybe you were just getting used to not having the television monopolized, or the pleasant lack of dirty socks on your couch in the evenings. It’s definitely hard for siblings, who were probably super excited to see their sibling, but might become less so when they have the epiphany that they no longer are the center of attention at home. Keeping this all in mind requires maturity and perspective. For instance:
2. Camp days are like dog years.
Even if your kid just went away to camp for a “rookie week,” please trust me when I say that it was the equivalent of a month for your kid. Days at camp are much, much longer than days at home. They are full of little chunks of independent thought and learning and insights–about everything from how to clean the bunk shower drain to how to manage an argument between friends without adult intervention.
Add the near-constant outdoor and physical activity component, and you have a year’s worth of brain and body activity in one summer experience. Your kid has grown tremendously–and while you will see the physical growth immediately, the emotional growth and changes might not be evident for days, or weeks. The transformation is amazing, but with all this growth and change and insight, it’s really also important to know that…
3. Your kid is definitely exhausted.
Not only are the beds not as comfortable as their beds at home, but their minds and bodies have been racing for days, weeks or even months. And they’ve been racing nonstop–because as much as their bunks were their homes away from home, they never really got the full let-your-hair-down relaxing feeling of being able to turn completely “off.”
Not only that, but they probably didn’t even want to turn “off.” They probably just wanted to savor every second of camp, sometimes into the late hours of the day. So please bear this in mind when you see that…
4. Your kid might be kind of a crank.
Whether it’s by falling asleep in the car in the middle of a conversation with you like a narcoleptic, or by answering your barrage of questions with “good,” “OK,” “fine,” your kid might not be unfailingly peppy and delighted to see you. That’s a combination of the exhaustion, and the transition and the uncertainty of leaving a place that they’ve created as their own space. They might, in fact, want to reclaim some of that emotional space at home, which could manifest as shutting you out a bit. So…
5. Give the kid space, literally and emotionally.
Take deep, non-exasperated breaths when the kid doesn’t respond to your prodding. If they have their own room, please keep in mind that this will be the first time they will have been able to be alone in weeks (you can’t even poop privately at camp in multi-stall bathrooms!). As much as you want to see them and hug them and be all over them, pace yourself. They are back and will be back, so it’s up to you to:
6. Be the adult.
Your kid did a lot of growing this summer, without question, through both positive and negative experiences–some of which you know about, some of which you never will. They did, of course, miss you, so give them the honor of being the long-missed loving adult with them. Give the loving hug, the unconditional support, and try to be a patient person when the kid is being impossible. Because remember–you love them not only when they’re sweet, but also when they are prickly, tired, dirty, smelly and rude. This parenting thing? It’s a package deal.