When I was 9 years old, my parents sent me to summer camp in Maine. (And later to Weight Watchers camp — but more on that another time). Anyway, I hated it. Hated it. I wrote a letter home to my parents saying as much. It closed with a pathetic plea of “I just know you’ll get me outta here. I just know it…” (my first dramatic ellipsis). They didn’t. Instead my parents submitted the letter, without my permission, to the Miami Herald for their “funniest summer camp letter home” contest. Mine was selected as the opening act of the winning submissions.
My parents were quite clear in their response to my pleas: We love you. You are funny. And you’re staying put: We have reservations. They used my “summer of independence” as an opportunity to tour greater New England. (And all I got was a pale pink T-shirt with “Martha’s Vineyard!” in cursive puffy lettering and Jackie Kennedy-type sunglasses underneath).
My parents did take a break from incessant lobster dinners (My mom complained she was “so sick” of lobster by summer’s end); marveling at waves crashing on majestic cliffs; the cutest little towns!; and the most charming B&B’s ever created, to come for visiting day. After weeks of eating a mushy, cream-colored concoction labeled tuna or chicken casserole alternatively, the camp presented Babette’s Feast to the parents on visiting day. Lunch was suddenly a beautiful bounty of steamed clams with drawn butter, scalloped potatoes I still compare all others to, chicken fried to perfection and homemade blueberry pie — manna from heaven. My response (after eating like a just-released prisoner) was to spend the remainder of visiting day running around camp telling any parent who’d listen that this was a bait-and-switch lunch, a total fraud: The food was NEVER this good nor this recognizable. To this day, knowing how furious I was at this culinary con, my dad still needles me that it was the best lunch of his life.
Now it’s my daughter’s turn to experience sleepaway camp (mwahahaha, she cackled). But as I look at the multitude of crazy options to begin the crazy process of deciding which one shall have the child (she said rubbing her hands together between keyboard strokes), I am floored. The exorbitant costs (aka “tuitions”) are compounded by cheeky “additional costs” (day trips, canteeen, oxygen, etc). The very application process is irksome, wih recommended visits and “rookie sleepovers” — at a cost. I’m frankly jealous of Four Seasons-style “amenities” like rock-climbing walls, private movie theaters and heated pools. Who had a heated pool in the eighties??? You shivered in the pool and froze in the lake — character building! So I asked my friends where they were looking at, to at least get an idea of the least offensive.
This is what I’ve learned so far: If you want your daughter to start logging hours toward her “wife bonus,” you should check out this this camp in Maine, whose rigorous athletic offerings include pilates, yoga, Zumba, spin classes— yup, spin, as in the cardio-bike-ride-to-nowhere where moms like me sweat it out between coffee and school pick-up — and cheerleading. In isolation, all probably okay activities (except for SPIN! Are they nuts? Contracted by Soul Cycle to indoctrinate future riders?) But the whole is more than the sum of its parts, and the resulting product reaks of a spoiled child who would most surely go on to cyberbully a fat kid or Menendez their parents when they stopped providing everything for them.
I’m not suggesting we send our kids to Kamp Krusty of Simpson lore, where cockfighting is the featured evening activity, but let’s get some perspective, please. What I want is a camp that is not needlessly bare of creature comforts (electricity is kind of a cool invention and I prefer not to trek outdoors after a lukewarm shower so I can’t expect differently of my kid), but one with room to roam, fervent color war, sports and art and friends and campfires; counselors who only smoke di ganja on their days off, and, preferably, a cold lake in which to swim. I’d also like the director to allow the occasional homesick first-year camper to call home if she needs a pick-me-up (unlike Marty, the Maine camp director who told me that my parents wanted me to “figure it out” on my own, a boldfaced lie my parents claim). And I’d like it all to cost less than a used car. I know these camps exist, but I have my research cut out for me, and I kind of envy the no-accountability my parents enjoyed in an age without internet — or pediatric spin classes.