Bees and Skinned Knees: Summer Camp

Urban Summer Camp storiesbbb originalIn my youth, I attended many, many enriching camps. None of them sleep-away, and none that did not feature, almost exclusively, pony bead lanyards and frames made from pop sticks. That’s not to say that I went to urban day camps designed to entertain the relatively poor kids who had to stay with their fathers over summer break because of binding custody agreements, but yes, I’m saying that.

I don’t regret my summers spent playing stick ball with children I’d likely never see again when they returned to their mother’s houses for school in the fall. I enjoyed my clay ashtray making and the deep discussions with other little girls about our Lisa Frank sticker collections. At lunchtime, noshing at a splintered picnic behind the municipal building near a barrel of trash where the bees gathered for their version of summer camp—I didn’t hate my lukewarm bologna sandwich, my cavity rich Little Hug* juice drink, and my pack of Now and Laters candy.  I relish the freedom I had then riding to camp alone after my father had left for work, careening down busy streets on my BMX bike, not looking both ways before coasting into the road because I was wearing the invisible armor of youth: idiocy. I was happy on my way to Lodi, NJ’s finest summer enrichment program—sunburn gratis.

But I wouldn’t send my kids there.

Like any parent who grew up working poorish and as an adult has multiple credit cards that aren’t completely maxed out, I want to give my children all of the things I never had. Important things like a two-parent home, fresh fruit and veggies, American Girl dolls, and a kick ass summer camp. I’m talking big “S,” big “C” Summer Camp, the sleep away kind.

Now, just because I’ve never been to sleep away camp doesn’t mean I can’t fantasize about its particular perfection. S’mores and ghost stories around the campfire will surely abound. There certainly will be nature hikes and bikes with baskets on the front for toting around camp store purchase like knot-tying kits and stationery for penning letter home. “Dear Mom, Does your love know no bounds? Camp is changing my life in the best possible ways and I thank you, Mother, for your kindness. . .” She will make a friend for life in the little girl with the gender neutral name, maybe Riley or Emerson, who will bunk with her. She’ll develop a harmless crush on the cute counselor who teaches swim safety. Perhaps she’ll have a minor run-in with poison ivy that will teach her a gentle lesson about horticultural awareness, leading her to someday explore the Amazon for life-saving compounds she then turns into the cures for cancer and erectile dysfunction.

The magic of sleep away camp and all of its enumerated and implied benefits is strong ju-ju, cher. Perhaps attending camp will be the kind of foundational experience that will lead one of my own children to become a leader in any of our most important industries, like the All Star Products Group, responsible for the single most influential product of our age, the Snuggie.

Who can put a price on dreams?

Cheley Colorado Camps can, and that price is $4850 for half of the summer. But hey, they have horses.

You’ll pay about the same for Camp Mesorah, a co-ed Orthodox Jewish camp. But, oy vey, they have rock climbing walls.

I know what you’re thinking, “Why would I spend that much on summer camp when I can leave the kids with Grandma for a week and go to Vegas instead?” And if you aren’t thinking that, well, I am. Thank Elvis impersonators there are week-long alternatives.

Surf Diva Girls Overnight Sleep Camp looks totally tubular for, wait, $1500? That better come with a hemp and shell necklace and immersion in surf language studies.

Thrill Coaster Tours is about the same at $1500, if you book before February. Otherwise it will run you about $2000 for junior to exorcise his corn dog after riding the Vominator at one of the many parks he’ll visit in Pennsylvania or Florida, all premier destinations for child predators.

Ah, summer camp. How I’ve romanticized thee. And while these camps do look AH-mazing, I’ll probably invest my money in some new and improved Little Hugs* and swim lessons at the Y because mommy’s spa day will not pay for itself.

*My exhaustive research (five minutes) of the American Beverage Company’s Little Hugs has unearthed updates to the juice line. Now it has a straw and 75% less sugar. It even has vitamins. I’m glad to see they still come in nearly neon, never before seen in nature colors. Kudos to you for only selling out most of the way, ABC.

ABOUT NICOLE: Nicole Leigh Shaw consistently wonders, “Why did I come into this room?” Once upon a time she was a mostly serious news journalist, an accidental magazine columnist, and a mediocre editor. Now she funnels an enthusiasm for meeting minimum requirements into her blog, Ninja Mom, and finding pairs of socks for her kids that kind of match. With four kids under age eight (two are twins), she can say with confidence that she’s finally gotten the hang of this birth control thing: Facebook. Because one cannot procreate and update statuses at the same time. Like her Facebook page and follow her on her back-up birth control, Twitter.

Check our her blog at http://www.ninjamomblog Pin her on Pinterest or send her an email.


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    • says

      Surely there are cheaper camps (I didn’t check). I keep meaning to look into the YMCA-sponsored camp here. But if it’s more than a couple hundred, I’ll be using that cash to go on a nice weekend away instead. Sorry kids!

  1. says

    Clay ashtray making, hahaha! I did that too. So funny how it was perfectly acceptable to make ashtrays back then. I remember bringing mine home to my nonsmoking parents, and they were like – what do we do with THIS? But oohed and aahed over it anyway. LOL.

    I did go to sleep away camp. Trust me, it did not cost anywhere close to thousands of dollars! But it was awesome, all the same. :-)

  2. Courtney says

    Aw! I went to that kind of camp too, yeah, don’t want to send my kid either. We are hoping to send our son to a sleep away camp this summer, but that actually costs real money! Yikes! (My hubby and I met as counselor at a sleep away camp, so yeah, they are magical 😉 )

  3. Bonbon Break says

    Braiding bracelets and silk screen t-shirts, that was our thing. This is such a hysterical piece and let me tell ya, I went to a Dude Ranch for a week one summer and it was a heck of an experience. We will see if my kids can earn it, I have some time.

  4. says

    And this one time, at band camp. Yep, that was the only summer camp I ever went to. No ashtrays, no horses, no braided bracelets. Just flutes and trombones and choir practice. I am fairly certain that even though I stayed for two weeks, it wasn’t that costly. Holy crap. I’d have to sell one kid to send the other to camp. Looks like VBS for us, sorry kids. Great post Nicole :)

  5. says

    i loved sleepaway camp, which shares a dress-code with your summer camp: idiocy. i can’t believe some of the stuff we did, but it was awesome.

      • says

        Whoops! Meant that comment for Kim, above you there.

        Ahem. Anna, for you I crafted this reply:

        My biggest fear of sleep away camp was getting rashy. I have sensitive skin, or did in my youth, and I think it says something about me that beyond meeting new people, missing my parents, and bears attacking the camp, I was most afraid of being alone and itchy.

  6. says

    I went to sleepaway camp as a kid, and I remember sneaking off to smoke. Then I was a counselor one year when I was a substitute teacher, and all I remember is sneaking off to smoke. Oh, and the trail mix. The trail mix was heavenly. That’s worth the price alone.

    That’s a lie, nothing’s worth the price. I got my first Girl Scout Camp flier this year, and as much as I want to send the girl, I still laughed all the way to the recycling bin.

    • says

      Those are the notices I burn under cover of darkness, for fear the children will find them in the bin and force me to pay $1,000 to send them to a camp with an unpronounceable Native American names.

  7. says

    Holy cow! It seriously costs this much? And here I was being all silly and worrying about paying for college, when it looks like summer camps are going to be my financial ruin. Fantastic news. Also thrilled to hear that ABC is “only selling out most of the way”. Loved this.

    • says

      Ha! Well, to be fair, I think there’s are top-of-the-heap summer camps. I bet you could do it for less. In fact, I may have just stumbled on my plan for making some extra cash this summer. Ninja Camp. Only $50 for the week but you need to send your own food, including extra for my family of 6, and I will provided endless TV watching and opportunities to fold my laundry.

  8. says

    Here’s the sad thing. I was thinking that wow $4500 for half the summer is a decent price—that’s how off the charts the camps are priced around here. My kids have not gone to those camps, but there you have it. Now that my kids are older, we don’t get brochures in the mail, we get “opportunities ” like building robotic slugs at Yale for $9000. Although we did get one mailer for a farm camp in Ohio where for a mere $3400 your kid can spend the WEEK doing hard manual labor. I kept that one because there is a blog post in there somewhere. Ellen

  9. says

    I think my awesome comment disappeared, but I’ll try to recreate. If it didn’t disappear and this is a duplicate, let’s just never speak of it, okay?
    Here’s the sad part about the $4500 summer camp—I was thinking, “Wow, that’s not bad for half of the summer,” that’s how off the charts the summer camps are around here. And now that my kids are older, we don’t get camp brochures, so much as “Educational Opportunities,” such as $9000 to build robotic slugs at Yale. And then there’s the Johns Hopkins scam—$80 to test your child so that you get the privilege to spend $3000 on 5 days of camp. But there was this one mailer from a FARM camp in Ohio where you spend $780 + travel for your child to do the manual labor of the farm for 5 days. I kept that one because there is a blog post in there somewhere.

    Isn’t it funny the reactions we have to our childhoods? I remember having to bike across town to go to the half day tennis camp I paid for out of my babysitting money. I would never let my kids do that. I did send my kids to sleep away camp (just campy, camp sans robots) for a week because I never got to go. Their take? It was miserable. So now I wonder if they are going to raise their kids saying, “I’m NEVER sending my kids to camp.” :) Ellen

    • says

      I imagine the prices are justified and the experiences are awesome. But I’m not Warren Buffet, so who wants to go to the neighborhood pool kids? Just like camp!

  10. Bethany @ Bad Parenting Moments says

    Here’s the thing…yes, this was indeed funny, but, it also was poignant and jogged my memory of the severe want I had in my soul for summer camp. We never went and I always wanted to…which is why, I have the maxed out credit cards and sunscreen smelling salt dreams of all of this that you put into one beautiful post even capturing the child of the two-family home…because summer meant something different to us. I just loved reading this.

    • says

      Thanks so much, Bethany. I have very little I like about leaving my mom’s house in the summers. And camp was very much just a place to be when my dad was working. It was like day care, in reality. High five two-family sister from another Mrs. and Mr.

  11. says

    I attended one sleep-away camp. It was girl scout camp. All I remember is the head lice check line that snaked around the nurse’s station. I’m getting itchy just thinking about it.

  12. says

    Like many of us, my parents didn’t have the money for sleepaway camp, but I begged and begged them to send me to Camp Wa-Shaw-Tee (compliments of the Girl Scouts) in Council Bluffs, Iowa when I was going into fifth grade. In fact, I was so confident it would be awesome that they scrimped and saved and sent me to TWO WEEKS, which meant I’d stay over a weekend with only a handful of similarly intrepid campers.

    Oh. How. I. Hated. It.

    I sent them a series of letters, stained with teardrops (they kept them) telling them I’d give up my allowance for a year if they would let me come home. They didn’t, although it pained them. This incident has gone down in family history as the moooooost entertaining story for dinner party guests.

    You say sleepaway camp, I say MISERY!

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