I can't believe you hate what I do.
Summer camp changed my life and I think it will for your child, too.
Until I was 11 years old I never felt like I had a place to fit in.
I grew up in a small, rural community and I didn’t like sports. That put a bit of a target on my back.
I had a great family life with many wonderful opportunities (like I said in my bio – growing up on a farm was amazing) but I never found that I could be open or honest with the kids I spent every day with. Somedays it felt like the only people who noticed me were the ones who picked on me.
It turns out I needed a place that would accept my nerdy self and still push me to be more.
It took me four years and one particular event for me to understand that that place was Camp Kintail.
When I was 11 years old, on a hot July day, my counsellor asked to speak to me outside during our rest hour. His name was Ian McLean and he said something to me that changed, well…, everything. On that afternoon, on a picnic table on Cabin Hill, my camp counsellor said to me “Travis, you’re going to make a great camp counsellor someday.”
As many of you who have been bullied know, one of the most important things to do is to keep your head down and hope that no one notices you. What had I done to cause him to say that to me? How was I living differently at camp than I was at home?
Only 1 Adult
Since that simple vote of confidence my life had changed from “let’s be safe (and read as many books as I can)” to “I’m going to be someone important.” What an amazing gift.
That gift wasn’t just that he took time to speak a couple of words with me, it was that it was the first time an adult that I looked up to noticed me.
In the years since, I’ve learned there is some great evidence that it can only take one significant adult one conversation to turn around a kid at risk.
Let me be perfectly clear: I’m not saying I was a kid at risk – I was lonely and often on the shit end of kind of behaviour that many kids use to dominate their social group but I doubt my life was going to spiral into homelessness or rampant drug use.
But now I had a something different: I had a place I felt I could be myself, I had a hero of mine lay out a plan of possibility and I had a new way of looking at myself.
I had a mission.
Why don’t you get that?
For the rest of this post I intend to explore the point of view of people who won’t sent their kids away to summer camp. Admittedly, to my mind that means that they won’t be giving their kids the opportunity to have a turn-your-life-around moment like I did.
I find this sentiment so strange it makes me angry. When I was filling in my Seth Godin altMBA application my answer to the “what do you believe that others find crazy/strange?” question was: I believe that people who don’t explore every possibility of getting their kids to summer camp fail as parents. Truth. I’ve said it more than once.
Please come with me down this path as I explore why people don’t believe in the importance of camp.
3 things to think about
In the prompt for today’s project we were asked to consider “priorities, stories and emotions” so I’ve organized this into 3 questions: 1) What rewards does a family get by not sending their kid to camp? There’s something that people are getting out of a summer that I’m not understanding. 2) What stories do people tell themselves about camp? Stories are at the heart of all understanding (and I don’t mean scary campfire stories… I certainly don’t believe that they have a place at camp). 3) What feeling does the idea of summer camp give them? This is probably the biggest factor in a decision about what your kids should do during the summer. Like Seth says: everyone is saying “people like us do things like this.”
What rewards does a family get from not sending their child to summer camp?
- Time. No family has enough time these days. The school year is a blur of practices, clubs and extra lessons. This family wants some time in the quiet season to hang out together, catch up on movies and talk about books.
- Money. Summer camp costs money. Even if a program is within budget the payment plans mean that a lot of money needs to be gathered and spent all at once.
- Simplicity. Camp is hard work for a parent. Between the 15 page forms (oops, make that a 15 page form AND an 18 page form), all the emails with reminders and packing lists, and cheery notes from people we don’t know, there is a lot going on to get ready for camp.
- Help. Not every camp-aged-child is a farm kid who’s parents need help with haying but there are lots of families with small businesses, with stuff to do around the house, and even other kids to look after.
- Control. When life is super-stressful and there is too many things to think of a parent just wants one thing that is in their power. Sending a child to summer camp means a lot of factors that you can’t control.
What stories do people who don’t send their kids tell themselves about summer camp?
- This is too unfamiliar. You’re asking us to make our child go to a place where the food is different, the beds are different, the kids are different, the smells are different and even their care-giver is different?!?
- Those “kids” can’t possibly look after my child. How can a college-aged student (for some camps a high-school aged student) really take as good a care of my baby as I can?
- I will miss them too much. What about me? How can I stand to be away from my kids for 1 or 2 or 4 or 8 weeks? I barely see them enough as it is.
- My son or daughter can’t handle this. She hasn’t even spent a night away from home let alone a night away from us.
- This isn’t going to help a college application. If everything we are working towards is focussed on getting into a great school how can a summer away from learning programs, volunteer placements or special coaching help build my child’s educational portfolio?
How do people who don’t know camp feel about camp?
- I say NO to Wet, Hot American Summer and Meatballs.We’ve seen the way camp is shown in movies and TV – if the staff aren’t spending their time gettin’ with each other they are getting dragged off and sliced up by some crazy lunatic.
- What if my child doesn’t get noticed once in their time at camp? Everything you show me about your camp, in pictures and on video, is loud, busy, fast, and, did I mention, loud? How can I possibly believe that my introverted little boy will ever even be seen at this camp. Will a counsellor know their name? What happens if they run away and no one picks up on that for 2 days?
- Bored kids bully. I remember what it was like when I was a kid. All this time “chillin'” in their bunks or hanging out on Cabin Hill is going to be prime time for the big kids. Why would I put my kid through that?
- Strangers can never look after our kid the way we can. My daughter likes her food a very particular way. If she doesn’t like her bunk she’ll never speak up and say anything she’ll just suffer in sleep deprivation for the whole two weeks.
We wish inclusively
Thank you Ben and Rosamond Zander. I love that as a solution to finding common ground. What can we wish inclusively, these parents and I? How can we find a common ground?
I believe that we all wish the same things for children: that they have a chance to grow up happy and to accomplish more that what we accomplished.
In caring so deeply for kids and teens I can dig down and find empathy for the people who love them most.
As I worked through this exercise I was reminded of that great Elie Weisel quote: The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. These parents don’t hate summer camp, they just don’t see it as important.
Or, as our business partner James often says “we need to stop being one of those businesses that blames its customers for not liking it.”
If people don’t “get” camp the way I do… maybe that’s on me.