From One Camp Parent to Another

Thank you to our guest blogger, Leigh Tolboe, who is also a Vega parent and Sub Junior and Junior Group Leader.

13 years ago, I attended an open interview advertised as “A Summer Adventure” in my University’s school paper. I had no idea the adventure I was getting ready to go on!  Since attending that interview, I have spent 5 summers at Camp Vega, fulfilling the role of bunk counselor, dance staff, group leader and, most recently, camper mom. My 9-year-old daughter, Dempsey is attending Vega for her 3rdsummer and will be a Junior this year. You would think that all my experience working at Camp Vega, and attending summer camp as a kid, would have prepared me for sending Dempsey to camp by herself last year, but I was still a mom sending my daughter across the country for the summer. Letting go was not easy for Dempsey or me, but there were some things that helped the process and led to a wonderful summer for both of us.

Start Now

Anxieties and worries are normal and talking about them creates successful game plans. Talking positively about the camp experience is important before camp starts and creating game plans for issues like home-missing, or any other anxieties, helps your daughter feel like she knows what to do when she is on her own at camp. It can also put to rest some of your worries.  Camp is not easy every day, but it is worth it. It is a time that our kids are learning who they are and how to make decisions on their own. Dempsey and I practiced writing letters, talked about her activities, made goals and she picked out things to decorate her bed to get her excited for camp.

Prepare for “the letter”

It will happen; you will get the letter (or a phone call) telling you what a horrible time your daughter is having and “can you please come pick me up?” When Dempsey sent hers, I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. I thought, “She is having an awful time, doesn’t have any friends and is ABSOLUTELY miserable!!” I knew my initial concerns were ridiculous and this was confirmed when I had my phone call with Dempsey two days later and she didn’t even remember writing the letter. She couldn’t wait to tell me about waterski, though. Your daughter will have challenging days at camp, that is inevitable, but she will also have her best days.

Stay Positive & Focus on Her

In your letters and phone calls, stay positive about camp and try not to talk much about home or how much she is missed. That was hard for me, as I was missing Dempsey more than I thought I would. I focused on camp and what she was doing and who she was doing it with. It helped to have a running narrative in our letters and on our phone calls, and I minimized what was happening at home without her, which I think helped us both.

Try to Disconnect

This one is much easier said than done. I found myself glued to the camp website on a few occasions, waiting for the daily photos to be posted. More than once, I created a story about what I was sure was happening or not happening based on what I saw on Dempsey’s face. I was never correct, but I did spend time worrying and wondering what was going on, when I didn’t need to. Ultimately, this experience is about letting go for both of us. Trusting my daughter and those who cared for her allowed me to relax, which I think led to a better experience for us both.

Leave a “Homemissing” Box

Leaving after Visiting Day proved to be tough for all of us. Dempsey said she wanted to come home and, selfishly, I would have loved to bring her home with us! But I knew her best days were yet to come. We ended up writing Dempsey 10 letters and numbering them. We also wrapped a few small surprises and put them all in a box that we left with her on Visiting Day along with the letters. We told her that on any occasion when camp was tough, and she was missing home to open a letter and pick a surprise. Our letters always offered words of encouragement and in the end, she came home with a couple unopened letters. This helped Dempsey redirect her anxieties when she felt them and helped me feel that she knew we were there, rooting for her.

The Magic of Camp

Camp can be one of the most positive experiences in our daughters’ lives. It is truly one of the only places left where she is not connected to a screen. That disconnection allows her to fully connect with nature and create strong and trusting bonds with her counselors and friends. Even though I know and trust the leaders and counselors at camp, there were many times I was worried about Dempsey. But guess what? She was doing great. Thriving, even. There were also days she struggled. She had a couple weeks that were tough for her – she had some pretty intense home missing, got a sunburn and fell off her horse. But she learned to talk to her friends, counselors and group leaders and rely on them if she needed something emotionally, she (and her counselors) became more diligent reapplying her sunscreen, and she got back on her horse. That is the magic of camp – our kids are strong, resilient and, given the opportunity, will connect and trust their community, and grow more than you can imagine. Camp isn’t just about the good times for our kids – it is about them falling down and learning how to get back up.

This summer I will be returning to camp with Dempsey as the Sub Junior and Junior Group Leader. I know I can speak for all of the counselors and staff at Vega when I say that we will be there to care for your daughters, and anytime they “fall off the horse” we will be there to help them get back on.