As we waited for the camp bus to arrive, I wondered how had Jake, our 8 year old, survived his two weeks at sleep-away camp? Had he been homesick? Did he make friends? Were the other boys kind? Did he miss us? Had we made the right decision, sending our 2nd grader to sleep-away camp?
The bus finally pulled up and boys started pouring down the steps. In an instant, I could see that it had been the right call. As Jake climbed into the car, he started regaling us with tales of capture the flag, thunderstorms, and earning “feathers” in canoeing, orienteering, campcraft. Each story was interspersed with a shy smile and the comment, “Um, yeah, and well, camp was fun, really, really fun.” Within the hour he was beseeching us to let him go for three weeks next year.
Camp wasn’t part of my childhood, and I’d been hesitant to send our 8 year old to sleep-away camp for two weeks. One week seemed more reasonable to me. Why not start slow and easy? But my husband, Erik, had been to camp as a boy and convinced me that post-second grade was the ideal age to start camp and that two weeks was better than one. “I went when I was 7, for a month, and I loved it every year!” “Right, and in winter you walked 2 miles in the snow, uphill both ways,” I grumbled. “He’ll love it, trust me.” And so I did.
Camp Nominingue was the camp Erik had gone to. It is a boys’ camp on 400 forested acres in the Laurentians, just north of Montreal. It has a gorgeous lakefront, the water is warm and the boys live in platform tents with canvas walls that roll up to let in breezes and views of the lake and trees. No TV, movies or iPods, just canoe trips, wilderness skills, games, crafts and lots of dirt between the toes.
The previous summer we’d taken the whole family to Nominingue’s Family Camp to get a taste of camp life. After our first day there whatever latent West Coast, progressive prejudices I harbored about the idea of an East Coast boys camp that had been running since 1925 truly disappeared. The counselors were kind, supportive of the boys, full of joy and reverence for the natural world. They were wonderful teachers of outdoor skills and exemplars of responsibility; just the kind of young men I hoped our sons would someday grow up to be. I suddenly realized how the summers Erik spent at camp contributed to his appreciation of simplicity, his deep self-reliance and resilience. And now, filled with pride at the new things he learned at camp, Jake seems to be on his way as well.