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“You never know when the dividends of camp will pay off.”

This is one of my favorite parent quotes. It comes from a longtime parent whose children attended camp for years and are now finishing college and/or entering the “real world”.

Before I fully explain the quote, please allow me a tangent. It was an odd conversation that I had with Susie Ma’am. [Note: at camp, we have the “4 R’s”, one of which is “respect”, so everyone’s name ends with Ma’am or Sir.]

The details of the conversation are not relevant, but the reality behind it was enlightening. I will change the actual content to make my point painfully clear.

Susie Ma’am: “I think the solution to this situation is the color blue.” Me: “I am not sure. I really think it is a combination of yellow and green.” Susie Ma’am: “Maybe it should be the color of the sky.” Me: “No, I think the color of the ocean.”

OK, you get the point. We had a 10-minute discussion during which we were in almost complete agreement, but it FELT like a disagreement bordering on an argument. Prior to this year, we rarely had these odd talks, but they are happening more this summer.

No, I am not conducting blog-based marriage therapy. We are fine. But I do find these chats illustrative even if a little embarrassing to admit.

This last year and a half have stretched all of our coping mechanisms and our patience. We as a nation have dealt with real challenges and difficulties – worry about loved ones, job security, the education of our kiddos, their emotional development, the omnipresence of the very screen-time we had planned to reduce, and political polarization. We are all just a little more worried, more frustrated, less forgiving and more worn down.

We are like cars with very thin brake pads. We can stop, but not as well and not without squeaking.

I share this so that I can help you understand how this phenomenon has manifest itself at camp and how you can make this an opportunity for your child. It will also bring me back to the “dividend” quote.

First, our campers and counselors are just like us. We all have thin brake pads. They also have reduced social skills due to reduced interactions over the past year. Zoom school is not the same as a classroom at your elementary school or college. Even students that went to in-person classes have had their extracurricular activities and playdates reduced. Counselors have spent more time in their dorm rooms than in the Quad.

Second, it is important to recognize that this year really is different from other years. I started the summer thinking this would be a breeze compared to last year, but found I was wrong. It is important to see the challenge.

Because when you see the challenge, you can find the opportunity.

The opportunity is to slightly adjust our goals for camp.

Rather than thinking of camp as a short-term “fun” time (like a day at Disneyworld), we should see it as an investment in our kiddos’ futures.

They WILL have fun, but they will also need to rediscover and remaster their interpersonal skills. They may be a bit more anxious or less patient. If this is true, it will be true at school in the fall for everyone else.

But your children will be growing stronger and more adept NOW, while playing and trying fun activities, rather than conjugating verbs or working math problems. This practice will put them ahead of their peers. In fact, it is my hope that they will help lead their peers back to normalcy.

That will be the dividend of this summer.

Steve Sir