Confessions of a first time camp mum

A couple of weeks ago, Q went to summer camp for the very first time. He spent a week there, well, 5 nights and 6 days, I guess, and in truth, it was the first time (aside from his time in the NICU, of course) he has ever spent a night away from either us or my parents in the nearly 8 years he’s been alive. So what on earth possessed us to send him, you ask? 

Let me back this up a bit. Earlier this spring, probably late May/early June, really, I started to panic a wee bit when I realized that I  we hadn’t booked any summer activities for Q. As a competitive gymnast, he still trains twice a week over the summer months, so there was that, but I really didn’t want him stuck at home with me in an all-work-and-no-play kind of summer. Plus, as much as I love my kid, and adore (really, I say this with all sincerity) spending time with him, I knew that if we were together pretty 24/7 for the 10 or so weeks of summer break, we would drive each other nuts. Like, stark raving bonkers, put a pen in your own eye kind of nuts. 

Around here, summer day camps are pretty few and far between and are mostly run by the local rec commission. There are very limited spots which fill up in March when they open registration, which doesn’t really give anyone much of a chance, because let’s face it, who in their right mind is planning summer camp in March? We’ve barely survived spring break at that point! Also, when Q was preschool aged, I used to sign him up for all the “break” camps, and little special classes like kiddy cooking and sports, and was disappointed in them every single time. So now I just don’t even bother. Really, though, that left me with limited options on how to entertain the dude for 2+ months, all without driving. Sounds fun, right? 

One day, we were driving on the highway and I saw a billboard for a local-ish camp. At this point, I had started trying to convince either M or my mom to agree to drive Q to a day camp 45 min away every day for a week, and that was going about as well as you’d think it would. I had heard the name of the camp mentioned by a few people on another friends Facebook page a few days before, so I figured it was a sign and looked it up. lol and behold, they had day camps, which included transportation from a stop only 10 min from home! And a 2 night overnight camp as well for younger kids to get the “feel” of camp without the full week commitment. Both options sounded perfect. I looked up the dates – both camps ran during the same week and the timing was great. Q would have to miss a bit of training, but that was ok. The costs were not exorbitant, and the camp came highly recommended when I started asking around. We found out that a friend from school was going to be attending the 3 day option. It all sounded perfect. 
Until I called the camp, that is. 

I was told that Q was actually just a bit too old for the day camp option – it was for ages 5-7 but that since he was turning 8 this year, he didn’t qualify. And also it was full. Both weeks. Boo. I then asked about the shorter overnight option. Also full (of course!) but we could register and get on the wait list if we wanted. Needless to say, we were a bit bummed. That evening, though, I went on the website to get the form to be wait listed, and I happened to notice that there was a spot in the one week camp. It was for ages 8-10, but since Q was turning 8, he was the right age. Honestly, I was a bit wary, though. Q had never spent even one night with anyone but us or my parents – how would he handle a whole week? How would I handle it? We talked it over as a family – I knew that we were lucky to have found this spot and that I needed to act on it right away if we wanted to do this. Q assured us that he was up to the challenge and wanted to go. M was all for it. Really, I was the waffly one. But majority rules, and in the desire to give my kid awesome experiences and a great summer, I grabbed my credit card and hit submit. Q was so excited that he drew  an archery target and taped it up in the stairwell .

The next few weeks were a blur with all the end of school year activities and before we knew it, the end of June and the school year had arrived, and it was only 10 days till the dude headed off to camp. I scoured my email for a camp packing list, only to discover that it was part of the confirmation letter we got a few days after registering, and was more along the lines of “suggestions” of what to bring and less of an actual packing list. This didn’t quite compute in my list-making brain. Where was the packing list? I wanted to see something that laid it out clearly for me, saying things like “5 t-shirts, 4 pairs of shorts, 2 pairs of sweatpants, 6 pairs of underwear” etc etc. But nope. No such luck. So like any compulsive parent, I scoured the Internet, searching for camp packing lists. I needed to know how many of what things needed to go to camp with my kid darn it! This also caused great mirth for my husband. He knows I love lists and things laid out nicely and this was not fulfilling any of those. 

In the end, I made my own list, and we spent the days leading up to camp searching for the perfect sleeping bag, bug spray that didn’t contain DEET on our doctors recommendation (do you have any idea  how hard that is to find?), a flashlight and a Bible. Seriously, we drove all the way to Chapters in another city, 30 min away, to find a kid friendly Bible. Stupid me forgot all about the large religious bookstore we have right here in town and didn’t remember till a few days later. Also? Kid-friendly Bibles are awesome (and way more expensive than I realized) now! We found a few to choose from – one that had science experiments,one that was superhero themed and illustrated like a comic book (seriously, I’m not even kidding) and a jungle themed one. After much deliberation, and $40 later, he chose the jungle themed one and with that, our packing list was complete. 
When we decided to send him for the week long camp, I crazily  lovingly offered to write a letter for Q for each day he was away and send them in his suitcase. I bought a box of fun little notecards with animals on them with all the best intentions. 2 days before he left, I realized that I had forgotten to start writing. Oops! Let’s just say that I discovered that future-writing about your day is actually a lot harder than it sounds and that small notecards are better than full-sized ones for getting last minute letters written. I did it though, as well as printed off a few photos at his request, with a few hours to share too. Yay me? 

A couple of days before it was time, we took a little drive to see where the camp was, how to get there and how long it would take so that we were nice and prepared. The drive was nice and the entrance to the camp looked lovely. We were almost ready. 

Then it was time to go. I had butterflies in my stomach the entire way there, and could only imagine how he felt. I knew he was nervous, but really hoped that it would turn out to be an incredible week. Pulling up to the camp we were greeted by smiling staff members, waving and directing us where to go. We parked and pulled the suitcase out of the trunk. While we were doing that, Q struck up a conversation with a little girl across the parking lot. That felt like a good sign. We were early so we got into the line for registration. Q saw a bunch of kids in a ring kicking a ball at each other ( which I later learned was called GaGa ball), kids playing on a playground, and a mini zip line. He was smitten and off he went to play. 

We saw a counsellor walking around with a video camera, taking in the scene. The excitement was building and at 6:00pm, a cheer went up from the staff assembled. Registration was open! Everywhere we looked, we saw people in purple “Staff” shirts. Everyone had name tags, but they were all nicknames like “Recess”, or “Quicksilver”. I loved it. The atmosphere was so positive, I felt good about the decision to choose this camp. Once we made it to the front of the line, we checked in and were given a tag with a number that we’d need to present to pick him up at the end of the week. Another positive sign. Safety and security seemed to be a priority. Perfect. We got his cabin assignment and were sent over to the nurses desk to check in his asthma puffers. Then we were off to the cabin. 

His cabin turned out to be a big building with 8 cabin rooms inside. Q was able to choose his bunk and we got him all unpacked and settled in. He picked a top bunk for himself, and probably hit his head on the ceiling about half a dozen times in a span of about 30 minutes, ha. We met one of his counsellors and I had a peek at the schedule posted to the door. Once he felt comfortable, Q told us we could go. I knew they had their first all camp activity coming up soon, but honestly, I was conflicted. I knew we had to go, but my heart clenched at the thought of leaving my little boy there alone, with no one he knew, without me. He looked so big and grown up in his bunk, so confident. I knew that if I seemed sad, he would be too, so although I was sad inside, I was all smiles outside. And then once again, it was time to go. Hugs and kisses and more hugs and kisses, lots of “I love yous” and snuggles later and we walked out the door of his cabin and down the path. The thoughts were running fast and furious through my head. ” What if he is homesick? What if he can’t sleep? Hates the food? Doesn’t make any friends? Hates it here?” I knew I couldn’t dwell on the what ifs though. 

It felt weird leaving the camp without him and even weirder being home. I knew that I should use the time to do things for myself, to rest and relax but he was never far from my mind. Was he homesick? Was he having fun? Did we send everything he needed? What would I do with myself and all this time? It was crazy! 

We did have to deal with a severe case of homesickness, and let me tell you, seeing the camp’s name come up on my call display nearly gave me a heart attack. I spoke with the head counsellor, who explained what was going on, and we brainstormed how to help. Later that night, Q was given a phone call home and after listening to him tearfully begging me to let him out come home and having to tell him no, I thought my heart would break. I had to stay firm, though, and once that was settled and he knew I wasn’t coming to rescue him, he settled in and had a great time. 

Friday came and it was pickup time. We eagerly waited for him to come, and then all of a sudden I saw his counsellor walking with the kids from the cabin. As soon as Q saw me, his face fell and he burst into tears as soon as he grabbed me in the biggest hug I’ve ever gotten. He assured me that they were tears of joy though. As he hugged his dad, I slipped away to talk to his counsellor for a minute. He assured me that once Q settled in, they had a great time together and he was a lot of fun to have in his group. I was so relieved. 

I am immensely grateful to the staff and counsellors at Stillwood for making my son’s first time away from home an incredible experience. I am thankful that they were patient and caring and kind and didn’t give up on him when he wanted to give up on himself. 
I’m hoping to make this an annual experience, and give him that one week where he has zero responsibilities other than to be a kid and have fun. At this point, he is not quite sure, but I figure that he’ll change his mind in a few months. If not, I may resort to bribery, haha. 

Do your kids go to camp? How do you feel sending them off? 


  1. says

    I still celebrate my camping trips with Girl Guides and St John Ambulance. They were a highlight because Dad always worked Saturdays with Sun/Monday off (we fished in our boat as a family) and didn’t camp. Next come billeting with band excursions… Whoo Hooo.

  2. Kristina A. says

    I’m both dreading and looking forward to the days when my kids will go to summer camp. I remember camp as a kid was one of the greatest times of my life and I want my kids to have those experiences. But, I’m very nervous about them being on their own without me, my husband, or my parents!

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