I was six years old when I first went to camp. It was a month-long sleepover camp in Canada, hundreds of miles from my house. It was also my very first time away from home. My best friend was going, so of course it was all that I wanted in the whole wide world. For God knows what reason, my Mom said yes.
I was all big glasses and big heart and I couldn’t wait for camp to start. My mom and I bought a trunk. We neatly packed summer clothes. We hid contraband Twizzlers and other sweets that wouldn’t melt. We packed stationary, stamps and addresses.
Once we arrived and my cabin was assigned, I met my fellow campers and got the grand tour. Everything seemed a-ok. The first few days were filled with meeting new people, playing games, going to free swim and electives like arts & crafts. But starting around day six, I got tremendously homesick. It started as a small trickle at first. I missed my bed, my house, my mom. By day seven it felt even more overwhelming — this is when camp should have ended. Somewhere in the second week, everything in me cracked wide open.
Immediately, I felt like this whole thing had been a trick. I panicked.
None of my original begging and pleading to go entered into my mind. None of that initial excitement. All I could think of was that they sent me away and I was stuck in this horrible camp and I wanted to go home.
So, I started a daily letter-writing campaign begging my mom to come and take me home. I wrote my dad. I wrote my grandparents. I wrote basically anyone I could as a plea to save me.
I tried a hunger strike I tried begging my counselors. I tried going to the infirmary and claiming a terrible illness.
As my mom tells the story, she called the camp and asked what to do and if she should come and take my home. The camp told her I was fine, to let me be. She debated what to do but in the end, she decided to let me tough it out.
It wasn’t anyone or anything in particular, but I was truly homesick. When camp ended — yes I made it the whole time — I was ecstatic to be home, but then quickly became despondent. The rest of the summer I was wretched. My mom apologized ad nauseam, she said didn’t know that my situation was truly as bad as I had said it was.
For years, I didn’t go back to camp. I was terrified. Then one year, after fifth grade, I tried again with a week-long sleepaway camp right near our home on Lake Erie. To everyone’s surprise, I liked it. It probably wasn’t so drastically different from the other camp, but it was better somehow, more me. I went back the next year for two weeks. And I kept going.
There is a moral to this tale. It heavily relies on retrospective that only almost 30 years has brought me but here it is: I got through it. When camp ended that first dreadful summer, I learned my lesson. I licked my wounds, laid low and then got back on the bike and tried again, somewhere else. The world didn’t end when I was miserable, and the earth didn’t shake when I was happy. Life went on, regardless of how I felt.
There have been a lot of incidents, experiences, sorrows and triumphs in my life. Whenever I’ve been stuck in a really bad situation — job or relationship — I know that I have to save myself. No amount of complaining can change what I have to do for me.
I think back to the little girl, so full of spitfire and determination, and I applaud her spirit. I think if she could make it through a month of misery, the woman I am today can make it through anything.