Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Lessons Learned at Summer Camp

My son just returned from a full week at Camp Whitsett. Camp Whitsett is six full days of everything a boy (or, more accurately, a boy scout) could want: camping under the stars, hiking, swimming in the lake, earning merit badges and eating bad food. And, without parental supervision, it has other benefits, including never brushing one's teeth, barely taking a shower, spending your daily allowance on chewy candies your mom would never allow, and perfecting the issuance of inappropriate body noises on demand. On paper, this is a boy's perfect week. 

So when I sent my son off with his duffle bag, fishing rod and three pre-stamped postcards, I gave him a big hug, confident that he was going to have the best week ever. Said child, already mortified by the PDA (no hugs in public! he hisses), had quickly skampered off to the waiting minivan, already taking in the adventure.

Since this was an electronics-free event, I did not hear from him all week. In his absence, I cleaned his room, sorted his socks, changed his bed, and petted his cat, who sat stoicly on his bed for the entire week, waiting for his boy to return. The house was quiet. The other kids barely fought, and it felt as if three kids had gone to camp, not one. It was a lovely, but short vacation.

We got the call on Saturday, right after I got the one and only postcard I would receive. The postcard read simply: I got my fire chit, I got my whittle chit, I am having fun. Love James. Given that he usually signs off with his first and last name (I guess he is usually concerned that we might get confused as to which James was writing to us), I took it that he might have missed us just a tad. The caller I barely recognized. The voice indicated that it was my son, and that he would be in the Target parking lot for pick-up between 4:00 and 4:30 and that he couldn't talk more, he had to give the phone to someone else. I did not recognize the voice. Void of energy, revealing a depth of exhaustion I've never heard in my boy's tone, I figured it was a bad connection.

I also did not recognize the child that was waiting for me. This was a listless, sunburned, underweight kid who could barely pick up his backpack, much less his over-stuffed dufflebag. This was a kid who literally crawled into the backseat of my SUV, resting his head on the cool leather. Camp Whitsett did it. Camp Whitsett conquered my kid.

Now, I can't set up a tent full of bugs, release an army of raccoons, chipmunks and the occasional bear, force him to put all of his belongings in a bear bag, and make him hike between 5 and 10 miles daily. Nor can I replicate the lake swimming test, the brown food served at the mess tent (well, I might have some luck with that), or make him drink out of a mountain stream. Too bad, because the combination of all of these things totally wore out my son.

In the end, he earned three merit badges and the Beaver Award, a distinction that three of 300 campers achieved. He also mastered his lake swimming requirement, learned that it's hard to fish, discovered that chipmunks like Nutter Butters and insists that bears were in the campground. 

And three days later, he is still exhausted, lying on my tile floor watching Sponge Bob and asking for another Popsicle. And I have sent my husband out to REI to buy a tent.

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