Guest blogger Hannah Pasternak returns to tell us her tale of transitioning that very first year of camp – it was tough! But oh so worth it.
Summer camp brings feelings that a child will never experience anywhere else. Some of these are more unique and memorable than others. When I was a camper, one of these emotions occurred to me at the same time in the same place every summer as the wheels on the camp bus started to roll towards camp. It is incredibly bittersweet because you’re multitasking, trying to deal with both your crying parents on the other side of the bus window and the spastic shouts and tears of happiness your friends release in response to the knowledge that the best summer of your life will begin in just a few short hours. My first, third, fifth, and even seventh summer at camp, I was overwhelmed with this emotion. Every year I can vividly remember pausing to think: wow. This is really happening. It sounds corny, I know, but it is true.
On the bus ride up to camp my first summer, I sat next to a girl from New York City, not too far from where I live in New Jersey, who was going to camp for her second summer. She was one of the nicest girls I had ever met. We didn’t end up being so close that summer, or any summer afterwards, but I was glad to make a friend. On one’s first bus ride up to camp, it is almost impossible not to feel totally and completely alone.
My first day of my first summer of camp didn’t continue as smoothly as I would have liked. I was slow to collect my bags from under the bus, and by the time that I reached my bunk, my bunkmates were already bustling about, opening trunks and setting up beds. I opened the door and stepped inside. All of the girls stared at me. One said, “Are you Hannah Pasternak?” I said “Yes,” and tried to be as nice and cool as possible. I was disoriented on all levels. Little did I know, my low point of the day was yet to come.
Chow Bell rang, signaling that it was time to flock to the Dining Hall for our camp’s traditional first-night-of-camp-meal: chicken fingers and French fries. I had not finished unpacking, but had to go to dinner, so I walked to the Dining Hall clad in my tye-dye Soffe shorts, flip flops, and a white tank top. My camp was a traditional, uniform camp that enforces proper dress inside of the Dining Hall. Today, this is one of the qualities that I love about camp most (I believe my experiences instilled more manners and social cues in me than etiquette school ever would). But back then; I was tired, homesick, and confused. I was told to go back to the bunk and change out of my t-shirt.
I returned to the Dining Hall in a uniform shirt, but still with cotton tye-dye shorts and flip flops. Everyone had already sat down, and I was one of the last ones to enter—or, to try to enter. An intimidating counselor sent me back to my bunk for the second time. “You need to change out of your shorts and flip flops,” she said. With my head down, I made the walk down to the bunks and back again. Although I had finally figured out how to dress for meals, given two tries, I still had not figured out the “tao” of the other campers.
The first day of camp, and even the first summer, is going to be rocky for any camper. But the truth of the matter is that it is going to happen to everyone—any kid who goes away to overnight camp will experience a “first day” once in their lives. And no matter how many other campers they know from home, no matter how many siblings they have at camp, and no matter how awesome their camp “Big Brother” or “Big Sister” is, it is going to be a difficult transition for everybody.
Later, things get easier. That bus ride will still be a little sad, but will also be totally different. Each summer adds a layer of character to a camper, and his or her eyes will slowly be opened more and more. By your last summer, not only will you master the “tao” of your camp, but you will be a camp guru. No matter how many tries it takes—whether you are learning a new skill at an activity or are figuring out how to dress for dinner—you will, eventually, get it right. And that is what camp is all about.
Hannah comes from a generations-old family tradition of camping in Maine, and is herself an alum of a Maine Camp Experience member camp. Hannah graduates from high school this summer, and will be attending Brown University in the fall.
Talk to Laurie, our Maine Campcierge®, about choosing the right camp for your child and what to do in Maine.