I actually thought I would stop the article right there. Four words that say it all. I could stick in one more really good word (right in that spot with all the signs), but one Mom wrote me a letter complaining that I have a potty mouth, so I am refraining for now, but hey, for those of you who are sending your kids off to overnight camp — you know what I’m talking about — let’s have a Group Shout-Out:
I ____ Hate Camp Packing!
Do you mind if I bitch for a minute? (I know, I could not hold back, sorry). Truth is, I think that a little bit of harmless swearing is half the fun of having this blog. A blog is basically a diary-in-drag. All those times you wrote secretly — I f–cking HATE MY— … I get to do it live. (Trust me, I have paid for these outbursts on more than a few occasions). That’s why I invite other Moms/Dads to join in. Let it all out, and you can do it anonymously – that’s my selling point. What I love about THIS blog is that nothing needs to be reported, just felt. This, from a reporter who was schooled on “Just the facts, Ma’am” for more than 20 years. Yes, I feel free.
But I digress …I LOVE writing the blog, but I HATE Camp Packing.
Believe me, I so know I’m not alone. Every Mom I run into around my town, and letters that come in from moms from other towns, share the same sentiments. I even have a friend from New York who is a literary agent, a lawyer, and a coach of her son’s baseball travel team who gives me daily updates, a quarter packed … half done … almost there …
Yes, for those of us whose kids are going away to overnight camp — first session or second session, or (the big scorers) ALL EIGHT WEEKS, the packing is killer. Apparently, boys are so much easier, unless of course sports gear is involved. Girls & Packing requires Art & Strategy. And it ain’t pretty.
There is the requisite camp “recommended” clothes list (just follow it, and then multiply by 10 — I mean, really, 2 tank tops? as our list states). Then there is the labeling of every item from towels to tweezers, there is the hair crap (don’t get me started), and most importantly, or don’t even bother reading further, there are the costumes.
Pause right there.
Costumes are an unique sidebar aspect of packing for all those special camp theme days: Color Wars, ’50s Night, Lip Sync Night, Disco Night, Hippie Night, Red White & Blue Day and Night (You get the idea. Just think of a theme and then add more packing). For those who don’t know, American Apparel has the monopoly on camp costuming (a little insider trading if you are looking for a hot summer stock tip).
There is stuff for rain, stuff for socials, a pre-camp lice check, cutesy camp stationary, stamps & labels (plus the requisite: Don’t forget to write your grandparents discussion — remember THEY are the ones who send the packages).
Camp packing is not an activity or an adventure, it is domestic torture. Again, some of you may love it. So this is for those of you in MY CAMP.
This generation’s Camp Gear has evolved in my mind as yet another conspiracy, much like going to the orthodontist for TWO full sets of braces — in elementary school and then again in Junior High (pa-lease, we never did that). Much like the hands-down all-time worst conspiracy — those mechanical lead pencils that break BEFORE you even use them, that your kids HAVE to HAVE. Do you remember how long a sharpened Number 2 pencil lasted? And the best part was using it until it got down to the eraser head. All you needed was three pencils a year, not three-a-day.
Yes, I digress once again because I’m multi-tasking as I write this. Stop and start. I’m now stopping in the middle of this sentence to help my daughter who is yelling downstairs that she can’t find a certain purple shirt for Color Wars.
I’m back (shirt was in her sister’s room — don’t ask). The Camp Gear Conspiracy is not only oh-so-pricey, it also has to be oh-so fashionable. (What happened to those army green duffels or even better, those chrome-plated trunks which were either red/girls or blue/boys). Speaking for my own crew: their rainbow tie-dyed patterned bags (aside from being hip, admittedly VERY sturdy) are embroidered with their names on the two large duffels, the laundry bags, the folding chair, and that thing that attaches across the bed that they stick miscellaneous stuff in, like flashlights, lanyard and bracelet string. Everything matches. The good news with three daughters, at least with everything so “personalized” and color specific I know whose is whose.
When we went to camp NOTHING matched. I was given all the loser items from my house. Old sheets, pillowcases, and the absolute worst, were the reject towels– all went straight to camp. And you know what, we never blinked. Who cared? What was important was not the look, but just getting out of the house, and to camp with your friends as fast as possible.
And the letters? What letters? My husband always tells the story of going away 8 weeks and sending his parents home “fake” letters (a blank paper inside an envelope). No one wanted to waste a minute of camp writing. And me, being a writer even then, I did go one step further. I filled out those questionnaire letters. Camp is Great (check), Counselor is Nice (check), Food Sucks (check).
And now as parents we have what is known as “Bunk Notes”– yet another pressure. The art of the “waiting for a letter” from home is long gone. Our kids (mine) await my nightly emailed messages telling them all the things I do all day delivered to them in a “Bunk Note.” In real life, if they were here at home, they could care less that I went to the cleaners, the grocery, the vet, wrote a blog, sold a book, and had coffee with my friend Staci. Most of my bunk notes to my girls come from the mouths of my dogs (much more fun to say “I RUFF YOU”).
And the photos… it is a full-time job perusing through 500 daily camp photos (that poor photographer) just to find the one or two shots with your kid. Yes, she is smiling. Yes, she has her arms around 10 kids. No, she wasn’t smiling. Is she okay? She is walking alone — what does that mean??? What is she wearing? Just a sports bra and hiked-up boy shorts? Oy!
But the packing ... The Smart Moms among us have this experience down to a science. The same second the camp bags come home from the previous year, the pillow is thrown out, they race to the laundromat — have six machines going simultaneously, refold, repack, regroup, throw in the Febreze freshener, and goodbye bags ’til next year. A 360-day time-out in the basement.
Now don’t get me wrong there are lots of rugged camps out there — lots of kids who leave the flat iron at home (1 out of 3 of my kids). Lots of parents who don’t get the Bunk Notes experience, or camps who don’t photograph every waking move — I’m just not one of them.
Interrupted again … I was just told I got the wrong blades for the right shaver (“Venus goes with Venus, Mommy — not Gilette!”) Just shoot me!
Here’s what I do know, the same second those camp bags leave my hands, I will feel that familiar lump rising in my throat, and then the sharp-edged thing that enters my stomach as the sadness makes its way in. My girls, and all of their teenage drama are leaving with those bags. All the things that make my life both insane and great are making its way out of my house, out of suburbia, into the wild, on their own.
Their rooms will be too clean, their cell phones will be fully charged in their rooms — un-texted, untouched. Their laptops will be off, and late-night “Go To Bed Already” chats will be substituted for live bunk-bed discussions. Real-time three-dimensional laughter. The real deal.
And I won’t get to see it.
Goodbye bags, I think. Good riddance. I will not miss you, but God knows, I will miss them.< back