Camp, Family Life

Publisher’s Blog: Inventing Camp Happy

by Ann Herren (first published 2014)

We’ve all heard of the stages of grief, the steps to sobriety, the path to enlightenment. But are you familiar with the stages of camp burnout? It is real. And it is profound. And you, our beloved camp director, have the power to turn this train around and choo choo into happy town. I’ll break it down.


my daughter after her ‘white’ day. I kid you not. this is what I live with. 

The rant: My nugget is six years old and definitely not a pillar of self-sufficiency. So please know: everything that’s ‘fun’ for her on the camp calendar is work for me. In other words, UNFUN.  And it invariably involves a shopping trip, a project, or a negotiation.

The case:  Let’s review some of the special ‘camp days’ that we had last year, and how they could drive any normally functioning parent over the brink:

Favorite character day –a long-discussed and pulled-together get-up (usually by mom well into the night), that upon walking into camp, is suddenly hot and unbearable and must be removed immediately.

Favorite costume day– something that’s only settled, under duress, 15 minutes before camp (and sometimes not revealed to the parent until then, too).

Team color day –without fail, the only damn color your child doesn’t own.

Crazy hat day–I don’t even know what to say. WTH?

Fantasy dress up day– must spend 10 minutes explaining the difference from the above. Twice. Then lose understanding, myself.

80’s day– I think we all know there is no reason to revisit the 80’s.

Mismatch day easier, unless they insist, as she did, on walking Quasimodo-like with one plastic princess heel and one slipper.

Animal dress-up day –now you’re just taunting me.

Tie dye day– another blast from the past. And trip to the store.

Then there are the daily preparations. What days to wear swimsuits under clothes, wear flip flops vs. sneakers, which day to bring clean towels in and when to bring moldy towels home, when to dress them in white (Wait, what?  Why do you hate me?).

Label EVERYTHING. Including sunscreen, though I’m personally not sure why, as my daughter somehow empties a full bottle every day. Maybe she is vigilantly protecting plants and random dogs.

Lunches!  Who doesn’t want to pack lunches, at 6:30 each morning,  after a long school year? It’s just a bit more challenging now, because they must be heat proof. Nothing screams ‘bad mom’ louder than sweaty salami and hot watermelon.

The plea: Why? Why make more work for parents? My solution: This is camp—you do it.

The negotiation:

Here is the new calendar I propose:

Crazy hair day.  No shrieking as you desperately rake a brush through their hair. Send your kids with their brush and we’ll spend the morning brushing the tangles out– just for fun.

Crazy clothes day.  Did they stay up movie watching ’til too late last night? No worries, send them to camp in their pjs. It’s cute.

Tie dye day.  Those new whites they wore last week then promptly covered in paint and sno-ball juice? It’s now called tie dye! Let them wear that.

Kitchen class—every day.  Send your kids to camp on Monday with everything you can blindly grab from your fridge that morning. We will use that to help them make a yummy, nutritious lunch every day!

Swim day.  Don’t worry, we’ll reapply sun block for you, making sure we cover the areas you either routinely forget or your little nugget can’t grasp the concept of, like anything that’s not arms or legs or on their front side.

Friday never ends day.
Know what? Don’t bother coming to get them. We’ll keep them overnight for the Best Sleepover Ever. Just go out, enjoy a nice meal, a few drinks and quiet house.

The close. Wasn’t the original point of camp to take our kids off our hands? C’mon. We can all still pretend it’s for them.

Just let me know when Camp Happy is enrolling. I’m signing up.

** This is compiled over 3 years of camp experience- and half a dozen camps. I will firmly state; my daughter loved each and every one, as did I. But, after a long year of school, if any camp required me to do anything beyond rolling over and hitting the snooze, I’d be bitching.


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