First Sleepaway Camp

I’m Just Saying” is a column by Suburbs 101 Contributor, Alexis Gold. A funny and brutally honest take on what life is like for a working mom in New York City/turned unexpected stay at home suburban mom. This month, Alexis sends her kids to sleepaway camp for the first time.

I hate summer. I mean, I love summer. I hate this summer. When I was a kid, we weren’t allowed to say the word “hate”. Hate and bored were the two worst words you could utter in our house. My mom would always say, “there’s no such thing as boring, only boring people”. I hated that. (Of course, my three kids now have to suffer this same fate.) I crave boredom. I seek it out. I wish there was time to get bored. But as quickly as I seek it out, the busyness crawls out of the crevices of my minivan — stuck to old goldfish and water bottles. Oh, and I hate it. 

I should be clear. This summer, busyness equals driving. Driving everywhere. The grocery store; hockey practice; play dates; tennis lessons. Driving to gymnastics an hour each way Monday through Forever. You’d think I must really love my kids to make this sort of commitment. I don’t think it’s love driving my minivan over the bridge every day. It’s inertia. You start with a 30 minute recreational class. It becomes a one hour class at a “real” gym. You sprinkle in a couple of private lessons. Before you know it, you’re sitting in summer traffic wishing you were on the path to anywhere else.

Some of the busyness is my own fault. It’s like a disease. I can’t stop adding things to the calendar. I lack busyness willpower. I threw my daughter a surprise party. On my own birthday, that’s how selfless I am. The ruse for the surprise party – was another party. Just a treat following practice, but still more busywork. She’d have been happy with a cake and some balloons. But, once my older daughter put the idea in my head the extra and unnecessary just came out like a bad stomach virus. 

Things slow down after Memorial Day. Long lazy pool days. Drinks by the pool. Rushing only meant for the beach and fireworks. I made this version of summer up. Or it may have been pre-kids or pre-COVID. I think coming off the quiet of last summer, 2021 feels like a pre-pandemic September on steroids instead of the dead of August. 

So, I hatched a plan. I decided to deal with the busyness by adding sleepaway camps. At a long practice one afternoon, some moms noted their girls were going to a gymnastics camp. Six hours of tumbling a day sounded like my daughter’s heaven. Before anyone could say “stick it” the CampMinder site had my money. My son heard his twin was going and that was that. So, I found a place that met my requirements (not six hours away) and counted the days to less driving. I’m ignoring the fact that my oldest daughter unsubscribed to this plan. Two out of three ain’t bad. 

Camp was meant to be subtraction by addition. Getting them out meant adding three page long packing lists and more driving and busy. By the time I bought trunks and comforters and 16 pairs of socks per kid, I realized that my camp planning was piss poor. In a rookie move, I didn’t plan any of my kids’ sleepaway camp to overlap. I consider myself a logistics master no more. Just a master of snowballing the busy. 

But, sleepaway camp lived up to my expectations. It’s the same way I feel when I board my puppy for no reason at all – happy and not having to worry about shit. I noticed the vast difference immediately — fewer beds to make, playdates to plan, and gymnastics miles to log. 

My son signed up for a beginners sleepaway camp session. One week with the option to re-up for two more. I was pretty sure he’d never want to come home. What could go wrong in a magical forest on a lake where young boys get to play with bows and arrows? Five days in I received a call from a vaguely familiar area code. Why do they always call the moms? I could have used a few more minutes of the happy story in my head. He was miserable and homesick. 

We decided to schedule a camp call with him – a very controversial and divisive camp topic. But, it was his birthday. Plus, I needed to maintain not just my 2021 second week option, but all future summer options. I needed him to go back. I raced my older daughter home from hockey practice to make sure I could hear my son’s voice at 2:30pm. In yet another way to make parents’ lives more difficult, hockey rinks have no cell service. During this 30 minute drive, the US Post Office stopped at my house and left this: 

first sleepaway camp

I immediately wondered how he had gained access to the camp’s office to Google “generic sitcom letter that will get me picked up from camp”. I was impressed with his candor and use of A.S.A.P. as an acronym. This letter wouldn’t get him picked up because of its content but because of the research and thought that went into getting airlifted out of camp. As. Soon. As. Possible. In the end, he didn’t get picked up by helicopter, but by me. In my minivan. More driving. After hearing his sobs, even I, couldn’t leave him there. That said, I wouldn’t call this attempt a total fail. He said the tater tots were good and the counselors were nice. At least one of them. So, I feel good about future prospects.

His sister left four days after our early return. We packed up the car yet again, and drove to shangri-la. The current protocol for most sleepaway camps is they don’t allow parents out of the car. After the COVID test drive through, we left our daughter on the side of the road with a woman who looked like she was old enough to truly be her counselor. I appreciate the trust and efficiency.

Most sleepaway camps have something called “camp stamps”. This is meant to be a convenient way to communicate with your child. You email your child and they drop the printed email in their cabin. In return you receive a scanned, handwritten note back from your child. This sounds super cute until you realize “camp stamps” are purchased for the bargain price of $1 per interaction – meaning my email to my daughter and her return note costs $2. Stamps are sold in sets of 10, forcing you to spend a minimum of $10. Since I assume the camp needs WIFI, email and a scanner to actually function, I view this as A TOTAL SCAM. But, also pure genius. Sign me up. 

This is the message I received from my daughter: 

I guess she likes it. 

And that’s it. She comes home tomorrow. It went too fast. I finally felt like it was summer. I calculate I saved more than 500 miles of gym driving in the week she was gone, or more than eight waking hours. I saved at least another five in hair buns I didn’t have to bun, meals I didn’t have to make and daily snacks, water bottles and backpacks I didn’t need to get ready for daily activities. And laundry….the list is endless. I can hardly quantify the less busy, I am so giddy with delight. 

Tomorrow morning, we’ll get back in the car, yet again. But, the extra sleepaway camp driving was worth it. I didn’t have quite enough time to get bored, but next year when I make the varsity camp planning team, that will be my goal. With even this little glimpse into my future, I can go back to loving summer. Let’s be honest. The minute I get that giant hug at pickup, any thoughts of hate will go right out the window. And the inertia that’s not love will kick in. And I’ll start all daily driving all over again…

About Alexis Gold

Alexis Gold holds a BS from Cornell University. She spent more than two decades on Wall Street, where she was a top ranked analyst by Institutional Investor. While on the buy side her creative writing was used to analyze companies, primarily in the retail space. Following the recent closing of her last fund, she decided to stay at home with her three small children. Her writing has been featured in Read650 and offers a funny and brutally honest take on what life is like for a working mom in NYC/turned unexpected stay at home suburban mom. 

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About Suburbs 101

Suburbs 101 is an online lifestyle guide for the New York Suburbs of Westchester County, Long Island, Fairfield County and Northern New Jersey.  Get the inside scoop on what it’s really like to live in the New York suburbs through our interviews with local suburbanites and features on Food, Fashion, Home, Travel, and Local Events. Be sure to Follow Us on InstagramLike Us on Facebook, follow Suburbs 101 on Twitter and subscribe to our Monthly Newsletter.

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