“You’ve got to go there to know there.” -Zora Neale Thurston
On August 13, we will pack the car and head north to Casco, Maine. Whitney will get to experience “A week at Arcadia”…living in a cabin with girls her age while trying out all of the activities that a residential summer camp has to offer.
Camp Arcadia is a special place. Whitney will be the 4th generation in our family to attend this camp. My grandmother was a camper in the 1920’s. My mother was a camper in the 1950’s, when polio was prevalent and many children were sent away for “fresh air”. Both my sister and I attended in the 1980’s.
Whitney’s week at camp will be a bit different than how I got my start there. I will be there working on the staff for the duration of her stay. This is my way of giving back, while also introducing her to the place over a short period of time.
It’s hard to believe that she is already coming of camp age. I found this photo of her at age 4, enjoying time on Block Island. Incredibly, she will be 9 in December. When I was 9, my parents dropped me off in Casco for seven weeks at camp. Most people who are “non-camp” folks look at me in shock to learn that I left home like this at such a young age. I wish they could understand the gift of camp, and all of the amazing things that it can offer to children.
It was at camp where I first experienced being homesick, and really missing my family. The benefit of enduring this emotion was gaining a sense of self-security and learning how to live on my own. Camp is where I learned the true joy of writing letters, and this activity endures at Arcadia today even in this fast-paced world of technology. Camp was a melting pot in the woods, where girls came from as far away as Jordan to as nearby as rural Maine. It was where I first heard native Spanish speakers struggling to converse in English. Camp was about dressing in uniform, and not being concerned about brands and labels. Rules from the camp directors made me appreciate my home rules even more. Camp was about my first kiss on a hot summer night at the Pinehurst Dance. “Puma boy” we all called him, because he wore a maroon Puma logo shirt (and had a mouth full of braces!). Camp was about trying new things: acting in the play, chopping down a tree, and learning how to do dock landings in a canoe. It was about going on a day hike and wondering if we’d ever really get to the top of the mountain. The ice cream stop on the way back and writing up the song to sing about the day made it all worth it. Camp was about “no thank you helpings” and trying new foods even when they looked disgusting. Camp was about cabin clean-up and developing a “pitch-in and help” attitude. Camp was about saying goodbye at the end of the summer on a cool August morning while we sang “You’ve got a friend” at breakfast. Wiping our tears, we waved goodbye to the NYC bus as it turned left out of the main gate and drove away. Summers came and went, and before I knew it, my time as a camper was a distant memory. Camp taught me lessons I would have been hard-pressed to learn anywhere else at such a young age.
When I imagine next summer, and dropping Whitney off alone, my heart breaks to know that 9 1/2 years have passed so quickly. On the outside, I will be a cheerleader for all of my kids to go and try camp and (hopefully) to love it. I know I will cry in private, behind my bedroom door, if I even make it back to the car without breaking down! The emotion will shortly be stopped by my own recollections of all that I gained as a camper. Living in a cabin under the stars in the Maine woods, forging friendships, and developing a true love for the outdoors are all things that I never would have known had my parents not given me the gift of camp. I feel compelled to offer the same opportunity to my children. Have fun, Whitney! I’ll be looking for that true blue smile in the crowd!