June 15, 2020
“How was it?” You would’ve asked, eagerly. “How did your first day of camp go?”
They would have come home dirty and smelling of sunscreen. They would have stepped off the van looking tired, the good kind of tired that comes from playing and running and hiking.
You would have excitedly awaited the report of their day hoping they’d say, “It was so fun!” OR “I made a new friend in my group!” OR “My counselor is really nice!” You would exhale, relieved.
It might’ve been your child’s favorite day in a long time. They might have strutted in with more confidence or hopefulness than they’d had that morning. If you’re like me, a positive description would have led you to imagine a possible play date with a new friend or a much-needed skill emerging.
Or, as first days sometimes are, it might have been a tricky day or a mixed day. It might have included a frustrating part or an experience that made them feel nervous or challenged. They could have said: “One of the games was boring” or “A kid in my group is annoying” or “I’m not sure about it yet.” You might have jumped in to reassure, ask follow-up questions, or make a plan for their next day. (If you’re like me, you might have reminded yourself that first days are difficult and stopped yourself from panicking or reading too much into it. I struggle with this sometimes.)
We don’t know. We don’t know what we’ve lost this summer. And it’s hard.
This spring, we talked to so many of you. Parents called our office and shared their fears. They shared their hopes about camp being a good fit, about what their child would learn and gain.
We made plans – so many plans. We planned to pair your child with a certain type of counselor. We prepared behavioral strategies based on your suggestions. We created procedures to ensure your child’s safety from their allergens.
There was so much reassurance. We assured you that we have worked with *insert common issue* before. We helped you know that we are more concerned with individuals and behaviors at camp than diagnoses and labels. You assured us that you will come to Open House and help your child be ready for their first day. You promised to send needed medications and medical plans.
And we got excited. We got excited to meet your child whom we’d learned so much about from your phone call. We looked forward to seeing your teenager for their tenth (10th!) summer at Outpost and their first summer as a Junior Counselor.
We couldn’t wait to train our newly hired staff. We imagined their placements within camp, the children they’d bond with, the new traditions they’d create.
We were thrilled to welcome our veteran staff and directors back to camp – to eat New York Giant Pizza and El Ranchito while we practice First Aid and walk through behavior plans. Just like your kids, we’d be dirty, smelling like sunscreen, and tired – the good kind.
We don’t know how your child would have done at camp. We can imagine, but we don’t know for sure. We don’t know exactly what they would have learned, how they would have grown, what friends they’d make, the memories and skills and feelings they’d take with them on the last day of the session.
Though I don’t know for sure, as a camp director and parent of kids who have attended Outpost for 30+ years combined, I can make an educated guess. I have a sense of what we’re all missing today, and it makes me sad. I imagine previous first days and recall cherished changes in my children.
When my son was 6 and attended Day Camp for the first time, I saw him discover that his weirdness was not only accepted but the coolest part of him. I witnessed my 4-year-old daughter make a real friend for the very first time at Pre Camp, all while being safe from her scary peanut allergy. I watched my 14-year-old stepdaughter laugh and bond and proudly share Outpost traditions with new Senior Outpost campers. I chanted along while my (other) 16-year-old stepdaughter confidently led a hilarious skit at campfire in front of campers, parents, and fellow JCs. At our dinner table, I listened to my 17-year-old stepson’s stories about the adorable 5-year-old campers and how much they know about Paw Patrol.
These are some of the things we’ve lost. And it hurts. But most of all, it hurts because it’s unknown.
Without COVID-19 and the world shutting down, who knows what could have happened this summer? It probably would have been a typical summer with positive experiences, funny memories, and new friends – the fun we’ve come to expect.
Or, for some campers, for some counselors, this might have been the best summer of their lives. It could have been the summer that gave them the confidence they desperately needed, reassured them that they are likable, provided the opportunity to lead others, or fostered growth to propel them toward a new career. It might have been life-changing…but we just don’t know.
Sincerely missing you,
Dr. Kelly Jones
Executive Director, Outpost Summer Camps
“We don’t have to do all of it alone. We were never meant to.” Brené Brown