Want to Put Your Mothering Skills to the Test? Send Your Kids to Summer Camp!


You think you’ve taught your kids how to perform basic daily tasks?

To that, I say, ha!

When our oldest two left for camp, we were in the throes of labeling, packing, and ensuring that the youngest of the two can wipe himself, brush his hair, and keep track of his toothpaste. All those things you have spent their entire life teaching them. Yet, there is this little voice inside of you that questions whether or not they can manage on their own.

Whether your child is going to a full or half-week camp, there will be moments of surprise–not just from your children, but some even from yourself. You will all face experiences that will make you second guess whether or not you’ve totally prepared them for this separation. Before, during and after camp, you’ll worry that you left something out.  I’ve created a list of camp-related “incidents,” procured from my own experience (both as a camper and as a mom of campers). The bottom line is, these things happen no matter how well we prepare them…so it’s best to just laugh it off, right?

Of course, every kid is different. It may depend on their demeanor, their age, and some may argue gender. What lies ahead isn’t a list of isolated incidents, I promise… but my daughter wanted me to make it perfectly clear to you that not everyone will experience these things. 

Before Camp:

  • They may forget to pack deodorant. Perhaps they will bring it, but never use it. Maybe their bunkmates will say something. Or share. But more than likely, no one will want to offend and you will–almost literally–be smacked in the face with your child’s body odor upon that first pick-up hug!
  • You will purchase a waterproof, disposable camera since digital cameras aren’t allowed. You will pay 15.86 (per camera) to get said camera developed and will have to wait a week to get the pictures back. The pictures will be of thumbs in the corner; they will be blurry, dark, and obscure. Your kids won’t remember when the picture was taken. Your kids will NOT understand how it works… No matter how many times you explain “27 exposures” to them, they just won’t get it (unless you’ve done this a few years).
  • You will put together what you think is a Pinterest-worthy shower caddy–shampoo, conditioner, body wash, extra washcloths, etc. Everything has a place, and everything is in its place. When you pick up your child, the caddy will be covered in conditioner, the soap will still be in the original box, and as for the washcloths? You may as well just throw those away.
  • You may find yourself introducing Ernest Goes to Camp to your kids as you reminisce about how funny you actually thought that movie was as a kid. You’ll only shake your head at his antics, but your children will certainly giggle.

During Camp:

  • When I was a camper, I dropped my underwear on the way to the showers. I didn’t realize it until I went to get dressed and was forced to go commando, questioning where on earth I put my panties. On the way back to the cabin I recognized the unmentionables that everyone was crowded around laughing at (seriously, everyone… it was middle school, after all). I didn’t claim them. You wouldn’t have either. Trust me.
  • Everybody poops. But some may just not want to at camp. This is a strange phenomenon and I don’t have answers for it since I personally can’t identify. Load up on fruits and veggies the week before and hope they don’t opt for grilled cheese every meal… it can’t stay in forever.
  • While they are gone, you will find yourself stalking the camp’s Twitter, Instagram, and Zenfolio sites (or whatever other social media they have for your convenience). You will do this if it is the first year or the sixth. You will do this because you want to see what your little ones are up to… without you. You will get excited about breakfast on Tuesday, your daughter’s right arm in the picture of the kids playing Capture the Flag, and about your son’s goofy smile during closing campfire. Don’t ask me what I’ll do if there is a picture of both of my kids together this year. #imnotcrying #yourecrying #stopit
  • The camp may suggest sending self-addressed-stamped-envelopes or postcards. This is so the kids can write home when they’re feeling homesick or to put you at ease. Either way, you will take the time to buy the correct postage and will label everything for your child. You will be lucky to receive anything, so don’t hold your breath. As for the collection of years and years of unused SASE, I don’t have a solution. Maybe write a little note to your kid or your spouse.

After Camp:

  • Clothing will likely be left behind (of course, it will be the one shirt from Target that you fell in love with the moment he decided to go to camp… the one that said “Happy Camper.” Yep, that one.). No amount of labeling, designated places, or sifting through lost and found areas will help with this. Be prepared.
  • Coming home with other kids’ clothes is not unheard of. You will likely have a sock (just one) that you’ve never seen with something on it that will both disgust you and spike your interest–“What in the world could that kid have stepped in?” or “What size shoe could that kid have possibly worn?” 
  • No matter the child, no matter how well they showered at camp, they will be filthy when they come home. Maybe they didn’t clean their ears, or condition their hair, or scrub beneath their fingernails. Perhaps they didn’t wash their feet with soap the entire week. Or maybe it is just because the camp has everyone shower with swimsuits on. Whatever, you’ll be making sure they’re scrubbed squeaky clean as soon as they get home.
  • They’ll come home with phone numbers. But they’ll be only five digits. Good luck figuring that out when they want to call their new best friend and have a sleepover.
  • Your child will try to teach you all sorts of songs from their time away. These songs will have roughly 36 verses with a different set of hand motions to accompany each line. Your child will not be able to comprehend how you cannot memorize these at the dinner table.
  • When you pick up your camper, you will want to hear about their adventure. They may just smile at you, assure you that it was fun, and sit in silence the whole way home. Leaving summer camp can be a bit depressing… expect some kids to hit a low point in the days following camp. Sorry parents, no matter which way you slice it, you’re not as fun as a jam-packed week away from home.
  • The alternative is that your child will not stop talking about every single thing that happened every moment of every day. You will love it. At first. By dinner time, this will get old. Don’t fret too much, though… they’ll be so tired, they’ll be fast asleep in no time.

Chances are, your kid will love summer camp. However, you may have a kid that isn’t interested in returning next year. But, I bet they made some really good friends, tried some things they wouldn’t have done otherwise this summer, and took themselves to a new personal limit. There is something to be said about pushing our boundaries–even as parents.

So, if your kid comes back home without having ever used the shampoo you bought for them, or if they forgot to brush their teeth a few times, or if they wore the same shirt the entire week… FORGIVE THEM.

Offer them grace and know that they were probably having so much fun, they didn’t sweat the small stuff… and neither should you.

Lighten up and hope that they did, too. At least for a few days without you telling them what to do and when to do it. They survived, didn’t they? They feel more independent. And ultimately, that is what we’re doing as we train them up, isn’t it? We want them to be able to leave the nest at some point–prepared to shower on their own, fold their clothes, make their beds, and put their dirty clothes in the hamper.

Despite how well they do, there is always room to grow. And no matter how much they might miss the mark, give yourself–and your kiddo–a pat on the back for doing your best!


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here