Camp Philosophy Isn’t Just for the Summer!

Our Social Media Director, Lauren Eckstein Forman shares her recent experiences at the CT Book Club and how the lessons learned in “Homesick & Happy” came in very handy on a recent family vacation! 

I recently attended my second annual Camp Towanda Book Club, where new and seasoned parents discussed the book “Homesick & Happy” by Michael Thompson.  When I first sent my 8 year old son to camp, I used the wisdom in this book and the guidance from our very experienced Camp Directors Mitch and Stephanie Reiter to help me navigate sending my child off to camp! I learned what I should say, what I shouldn’t say, how to handle my child’s questions and how to manage homesickness -the anticipation of homesickness and receiving word of homesickness from afar.

IMG_2875Being a first time parent, I had a ton of nervous and excited energy about getting my child on the bus and sending him off to camp.  I loved camp so much and wanted him to love it too.  Which would lead me to want to talk about going to camp.  The more I talked, the more anxious my child became.  Mitch and Stephanie Reiter advised me to stop talking.  From February to June was a long time and they promised me he would be ready!!! Boy were they right.  Between this time last year and June, there were plenty of things that got my child ready for camp.  The camp shopping (the cool uniforms, the spray water bottles, the college team bedding, the stationery, the gimmicks, the STUFF!), talking with and meeting his new camp big brother, pretending to say goodbye to him every morning when I dropped him at school, watching videos of camp, and ultimately talking about the possibility of homesickness when camp got much closer- all helped get him ready!  But I needed to be ready as a parent too!

There were a few of pieces of advice that resonated with me regarding homesickness that helped prepare me for camp.  They would eventually serve me well in other areas of parenting.

1. Let children know homesickness is totally normal. It means they have a home worth missing. Give them examples of times when you experienced and overcame homesickness.

2. Don’t make a deal. At our book club, Mitch and Stephanie shared a story that in their 26 years of being Camp Directors, they have of course experienced extreme cases of homesickness.  In these more severe circumstances, the child was able to speak with their parent. Once their parent said, “we’re not coming to get you”, it was like a light switch. The child immediately stopped thinking about the possibility of going home, and just had fun! If you make a deal that you will take your child home if they are unhappy, you are dramatically decreasing your chances of both of you having a successful summer.

3. Take a vacation from parenting and don’t feel guilty.  Let’s face it, parenting is tough stuff. It is challenging, rewarding and exhausting. Letting go and enjoying the idea that your child can thrive and stumble and thrive under the nurturing care of someone else can be liberating. You need to recharge your battery too, get perspective and have grown-up time.  As a result, you can be a better parent when they return.

c65e200e-8a92-4e36-b07b-925356e804bcMy son had an incredible summer! We both grew in ways I could never have imagined. He became more confident, independent, resilient and flexible.  I became more confident, patient, respectful and proud. The whole experience brought us closer. When I asked him if he was going to be homesick this summer, he said “not at all. It’s only 7 weeks. I’ll be fine.”

Fast forward to our recent February ski vacation.  Both of my children, my 8 year old son and 5 year old daughter, were headed to ski school! This was their fourth winter vacation in ski school.  No issues ever.  A little complaining, but nothing like I was about to experience.  My son was placed in a different group from his best friend. In years prior, they were ALWAYS together and the expectation was that they would be together again. However, this year was different.  When we picked up our son from ski school, we were surprised he was not with his friend.  He was TOTALLY fine with it.  In fact he made 3 new friends, wanted to have a playdate with one and really got to know these kids (one went to sleepaway camp in Maine, they all loved video games and they looked forward to being in ski school together the next day). I said to myself “Thank you Camp Towanda.”

My 5 year old daughter on the other hand gave me a run for my money.  I was at the top of the mountain on our third run of the day.  My husband and I were with two other couples, enjoying grown-up time and the freedom of skiing, when I got the call from an UNKNOWN number. My heart sank.  It was ski school. My daughter was only there for 90 minutes when she came inside crying, refusing to go back out.  The ski school said “are you coming?” I took a deep breath and thought…what would Mitch and Stephanie tell me to do.  And then my camp parent skills kicked in.  I said “I am at the top of the mountain. I am not coming to get her.  She only thinks she is stopping because she thinks I am getting her. Please put her on the phone and don’t tell her I am coming.” I calmly told my daughter that I missed her too and cannot wait to hear about her day when we get home.  I reminded her of all the fun times she had in ski school before.  But most importantly I said, “I am at the top of the mountain. I cannot get you. Please try and have fun and I will see you later.”

For the next 4 hours, I checked my phone, but no calls. I figured she had to have gotten back on the mountain, right? Sure enough at 3:15pm she greeted me with the BIGGEST smile.  She gave “two thumbs up to the skiing” and “two thumbs down to the crying”.  Because I stayed strong and because she didn’t think I was getting her, the light switch turned and she focused on having a good time.  Every day from there got a little bit easier.  I got zero calls and my daughter and I picked a new song that we would both sing on the mountain if we missed each other.  It was our way of sending a camp letter and it worked. I said to myself “Thank you Camp Towanda.”

Because for 7 weeks or for just a few hours, every parent needs a guilt-free vacation. And every kid deserves to feel independent, proud and a sense of accomplishment.  Homesickness can be rough. But getting over homesickness will last a lifetime!

Now the real question is…when am I sending my daughter off to camp?

Do you have any examples when you used your super camp-parent skills to deal with situations at home? Please share with us!