Two new books will give parents somewhat different instincts about whether to send their children to overnight camps this summer.
P.S. I Still Hate It Here takes a humorous look at summer camp nightmares by publishing actual letters sent from children at camp to their parents. The sequel book by Chicago mom Diane Falanga features campers such as Sarina who confides that "I love everything about his camp except the campers." Camper Gary at least assures his parents that "the food is great and I change my underwear."
Turns out, the book has a Minnesota contribution, though it is an older one: a letter from a girl who was sent all the way across the border to Elkhorn, Wisc., for her summer camp experience in the summer of 1969.
On the more intellectual side is a new book about the psychology of sending children away to camp. Author and psychologist Michael Thompson argues in "Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow" that children grow from camp experiences, even when they aren't idyllic. Thompson has a bit of a slant in that he served on the board of the American Camp Association, but gained his information through visits to numerous camps across the U.S. and interviews of counselors and kids.
"Summer after summer, as I have listened to these campfire horror stories, I've struck not by the particular discomforts recounted, but by how proud and happy these children seemed. They had just completed one of the scariest and most uncomfortable five-day trips of their lives, yet they looked triumphant, with big smiles, upright posture and -- from the boys -- a bit of arm-pumping and self-congratulation."
Thompson offers guidance through the real-life experience of parents Sam and Terri, who dropped off their 8-year-old, Blake, at the Buckskin camp in Ely, Minn., that caters to children with ADHD. The departure was tear-filled, as Blake clung to his parents' legs before accepting his fate. His first letters home were heart-wrenching for the parents.
Letter 1: "I'm feeling homesick. I really want to go home. Please pick me up."
Letter 2: "I'm in pain and really homesick. I really want to go home. Please pick me up."
Letter 5: "Mom, I HATE IT HERE!"
And then the sign of hope in Letter 6: "Dear Mom and Dad, I am kind of hungry for junk food. Can you send me a big bag of chocolate chip cookies. I would like to share them with my counselors and cabin mates. 13 of us total. We will eat them on cabin unity day (Sat. and Sun.). Thank you if you give me the cookies. I'm trying new foods. Blake (also send new stamps)"
Parents, what are your camp stories? How did you encourage doubting children that they would enjoy the experience? And did they?