Hello Muddah,Hello Faddah...
“There have long been other kinds of noble ‘forts’ in the woods. And, today, as the children who really do venture into the north woods discover, Camp is an actual safe and noble ‘fort’ in the woods, and, yes, beneath its roof of pine and spruce, imagination still lives and children still make and do all kinds of things—(almost) all by themselves!” Chick BeVier from “A Fort in the Woods”
There is a song by Allan Sherman called “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah”. It tells the humorous tale of a young boy at Camp Granada writing to his parents begging them to come and get him. It was popular in 1963, so think of him as a Weird Al Yankovich of the 60’s. I listened to the song recently on YouTube and it reminded me of the first letters we received from our two boys who were shipped off to Camp Eagle Wing in Maine two weeks ago. The letters sounded like the boys weren’t having much fun, they were woeful and a tad cranky. Thankfully more letters arrived clearing up the situation. They sounded more settled and happier. I also had the advantage of knowing exactly what was happening since I had been with them the last two summers working for a week at the camp. I know the staff. I know the routine and I know the value that camp has had for my children.
Three years ago, I travelled to this camp with my children, then ages five, eight and eleven. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had met the founders and directors of the camp at a wonderful dinner over the winter and met other camp staffers. It was a warm welcome then so I certainly was sure we would be welcomed at camp I just wasn’t prepared for how welcomed we would be.
The boys were instantly greeted by a counselor who swept the boys away with a big smile. That year the boys stayed in a cabin and got to know the routine of camp. There is a rhythm to camp and the first meal we ate in the dining hall I watched my children with a mixture of emotions. I felt excited for them, the week ahead being surrounded by kids and counselors who were energetic and friendly but I also watched them and saw an awkwardness to their posture. Both boys glancing around the table, watching carefully but sitting with shoulders slightly hunched and had a moment of that terrible “mommy guilt” and wanted to sweep them up and take them home. Within a day, though, their posture started to change. They found the rhythm of camp. They quickly understood how camp worked and, like most campers without any inkling as to why things are done the way they are done, they just do what is asked of them. They sat up straight at meals and sang and laughed.
It was a wonderful lesson as a mother. I watched my boys eat what was put in front of them. I watched them set and clear a table for eight or more people. I listened as one of the directors gave a report at lunch each day on the cleanliness of cabins after inspection and realized they had to make their own beds and clean up after themselves. I watched them gain some independence and even though I am not known to hover it did make me realize I could loosen my grip even more and they would be just fine. My poor boys had no idea how much their mother was learning.
My youngest stayed with me and ambled around camp and she participated mostly in arts and crafts and took to the creative mastermind, Susan, like a bee to honey. She spent hours painting, glazing pottery, making jewelry and all the while being made to feel like a part of camp not just the camp nurses’ kid. This helped my daughter find the rhythm of camp in her own way. And on the drive home a week later it was agreed that we would return the following summer. When we returned home I listened as my children, all three, bestowed the amazing camp experience to their friends and watched them light up as they talked about archery, kayaking, their funny counselors and occasionally looked to me for validation with a “remember that mom?”
Last summer when we arrived one of the directors asked if my daughter wanted to stay in a cabin. I honestly thought she wouldn’t but she told me she wanted to try. She left me the day we arrived and I barely saw her for the rest of the week. She jumped right in as did her brothers. They slipped into the rhythm of camp in moments. Last year as we drove away from camp, everyone feeling a little sad my middle child said,” I want to come to camp for three weeks next year.” The oldest agreed. I was impressed but not surprised.
This year we put the boys on the bus that brings the kids from Connecticut to Maine early on a Saturday morning. They saw campers they knew and campers they didn’t. They weren’t apprehensive or trying to back out. They were packed. They were ready. My friends had asked during the week before the kids left how I felt about them leaving and not seeing them for two weeks. I told them I couldn’t wait to see them off because I knew exactly where they were headed, what fun they would have and who was watching out for them. I would see them in two weeks when I arrived to work and I knew they would be happy to see me but camp life would continue even with me there.
That is exactly what happened. After the initial greeting, I have barely seen any of my children all week. My daughter moved right into a cabin and the boys went back to their friends and activities. They do their thing and I see them if I go to the activity they signed up for so I can watch them sail, kayak, make jewelry, play soccer, learn archery or rock climb. Otherwise I see them at meals and get a quick hello and if I am lucky maybe even a quick hug.
I have had the birds' eye view of camp life. I have seen how it can take a shy, unsure kid and help him or her to blossom. I have watched as counselors engage with younger kids and make them laugh and make them feel special. I have watched my kids survive without cell phones or Xbox and engage in face to face conversations, making eye contact, their confidence spreading in their veins like a thick syrup. I have watched it change my children in small but amazing ways. I know that perhaps it doesn’t always work for everyone. It didn’t work for me when I was twelve and barely lasted a full day at a camp not far from home. I wasn’t sure it would work for my children either. But I wanted to give them the chance to experience camp. A place where no cell phones or electronics are allowed. Where there is a schedule but it all leads to fun and exercise and fresh air and lessons the kids don’t even realize they are absorbing. Kids today are over scheduled, anxious and stressed out. Imagination must compete with the force of technology. My husband and I say so often to our kids that phrase I think we both swore we would never utter, “When we were kids…” and they shake their heads at us as we did to our own parents. It is truth that when we were kids we played outside for hours. It is truth we weren’t exposed to the news or adult problems. We were kicked out of the house after breakfast and told not to come back until lunch and then kicked out again until dinner and then kicked out again until dark. We found a way to entertain ourselves. Somewhere along the way that trait has eked out of the common DNA and kids just stare off into space when they cannot be plugged in. Camp gives back the childhood my husband and I remember.
I asked Chick, founder of the camp, last summer as we had a lengthy and very pleasant conversation in his lush vegetable garden, how he knows when camp is working for a kid. He said to me, “You see them running. They run in packs with their arms entwined or even alone. But they run to get to their activity or to their cabin and that is how you can tell they are a camper.” It almost seemed like a sophomoric answer but an hour later I came upon my daughter coming out of her cabin all alone. I almost called out to her but I stopped because she was running. Gleefully, quickly running and skipping all by herself. Not a care in the world except to get where she was going. It was a site that filled my soul with joy and I thought “My kid is a camper”.
For more information about Camp Eagle Wing please visit their website:
For Chick's full story "A Fort in the Woods" please visit his website: