I was never a summer camp kid. I grew up in the era of playing outside, making mud pies, riding my bike to the corner store with loose change for candy and only needing to be home when the street lights turned on.
The only requirement was to bring my grandmother back a Mr. Goodbar.
I always did.
Summers consisted of tank tops and ripped shorts, never being clean, and eating on the run because being outside was way more fun. Chasing the ice cream truck and drinking out of water hoses.
I can still almost feel the sun against my skin and the laughter of other kids as we ran around the neighborhood.
But then, summer camps became a thing. The laughter became more quiet. The ice cream trunk didn’t come quite as often. Friends and neighborhood kids started going to summer camp and slowly, fewer of them were available for making the best mud pie or counting change, hoping to be able to split a candy bar. They were off making new friends, filled with structured activities and field trips to water parks and the movies. I listened to their stories with envy, because summer camp was too expensive for my family. Playing outside was free, and mudpies, well, those were free, too.
Until one summer when I was old enough to start working, a summer camp that focused on acting for film was recommended by my drama teacher. At 16, summer camp seemed lame, but my mom suggested I go, picking up extra shifts to send me all the way to France, alone, at just 16. The summer before my senior year, summer camp became a reality for me.
I remember the long plane ride, navigating a foreign country alone.
To this day, I laugh and say, “When I do anything, I do it full force” (like attending my first summer camp abroad). But despite the fear that I felt, my envy of all the neighborhood kids who got to experience summers at camp and were having the time of their lives, I realized something the summer I was abroad—summer camp is amazing.
It’s an experience that builds relationships beyond friendships; they are lifelong, embedded in the best time of year for kids—summer. There’s no school, no responsibilities beyond having fun and sleeping in. Summer camp allows for connections with people you may not have crossed paths with, due to your different walks of life, or in my case, being from different regions of the world.
To this day, almost 20 years later, I remain friends with those I met in Paris. We meet up occasionally, reminiscing about our summer together and how, back then, things were so much simpler.
Summer camp, no matter how expensive, how much your children might dread it, instills something in them. In us. It builds a family that writes letters to keep in touch, shares photos and memories as the years go on.
Mudpies, they are great. I will always cherish those summers. But those kids, they moved away, leaving behind leaky water hoses and a run-down corner store. Summer camp allowed me, once an introvert, to step out of my comfort zone and spread my wings. To build a family of my own.