Camp has changed my kids lives (and they’re not even campers yet)

I have understood the power that camp has to change your life ever since I worked at overnight camp back when I was in university. Ask me to tell you stories about transformations I’ve seen in MKDC campers and I’ll tear up every time. But what I never expected is to experience so vividly this affect on my own boys… years before they’ve even been assigned to a cabin group.

My sons are not even close to being old enough to officially attend camp as campers, but they are with us at camp everyday, and the impact it is already having on them is nothing short of magical.

We had two spring babies, so when Gaelan first went to camp he was only three weeks old. Doyle’s first summer he was 7 weeks old. Each were carried around their first summer by just about every possible staff member at one point or another, and often cuddled by moms of long-time campers at pickup. Occasionally, when I was desperate to be hands-free for a few minutes, I’d sneak over to the Heartwood Girls cabin, open the door just enough to slide in a baby, then close the door and run – the giggles of thrilled pre-teen girls following in my wake.

Gaelan hanging out with his favourite camp staffer

Neither one of my boys showed a single moment of the “stranger danger” phase that typically hits somewhere around the age of one, and I blame camp. They’ve happily been cuddled and carried by such a variety of caring adults that it’s always just been part of their routine. (And so when I say that my staff are chosen carefully because they are looking after my kids too, I really mean it!)

Having a toddler with you at camp is not for the faint of heart. Gaelan, who is now a 3-year camp veteran at the ripe old age of 2, struts about the property like he owns the place. And… to a certain extent he does. I’ll look up to see that he’s wandered just out of my sight again,  and before panic has the chance to set in a staff member says, “don’t worry, N has him.” And N is a nine year old boy, and that’s perfectly acceptable. Because at camp we’re all learning to look after each other.

One of Gael’s favourite books is “The Berenstain Bears Go To Camp”

(And that’s the thing, right there. I would trust the large majority of our campers with my kids. Our campers are amazingly caring, gentle, trustworthy citizens of the world. Is that because the parents who understand the value of camp are the kind of parents who raise that kind of kid? Quite possibly. Is it because the unique atmosphere of camp itself is bringing out those traits in them? I’d love to think so.)

But it’s when we’re not at camp that I really see how being a camp kid is affecting Gael. This is the kid who RACED to the back door to see the campers coming up the hill each morning, and having to explain to him why there weren’t any kids at the end of the camp season was nothing short of heartbreaking. This is the toddler who will go up to random kids in the grocery store (even those much older) and introduce himself, because in his world everyone is his friend. This is the toddler who orders his own lunch in a restaurant, and chats away as he shows his toy to the woman at the next table, because he is accustomed to conversing with adults.

One of the things I love most about camp is our ability to create a unique space in which our lofty ideals about how the whole world should be, can be realized. At camp, everyone respects everyone else. At camp, being yourself, doing your best, and contributing positively to the community are the things that matter most. At camp, technology is a tool, but it always takes a back seat to real one-on-one facetime. And for now, while I can keep it that way, I am thankful that the camp world is the world I am raising my babies in.

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