For the First-Time Parent
(and an annual refresher course for those seasoned camp parents)
Lots of folks who drive boys to camp get into position the day before the official opening. Some stay with family members who live closer to camp than they do; others really aim to get close by. Hanover and sites south of camp have been historical targets for those from New England, New York and as far away as Washington, DC. On opening day (either session) moms and dads can expect boys to be up early and itching to get on the move. Typically, cars begin arriving around 9 a.m. Greeters at the entrance gate will direct vehicles down the hill and into camp. Unless it is very wet, parking on the grassy shoulders near the cabin areas is fine by us and we will have the entire staff on duty in these areas anyway and they will point you to the appropriate bunk. They will also do the trunk hauling and don’t you dare tip them for this effort!
As for hanging out yourselves, you be the judge of when is the best time to depart Dodge. Almost all families new to Kingswood remain on the grounds long enough to get a real feel for camp. Counselors are absolutely delighted to take you on tours of the property — they are extremely proud of their camp and will tell you that! They will introduce you to nurses, cooks, other counselors and boys, too, as they show you about the grounds. Most typically, moms will want to get a good look at the boy’s bunk before the tour commences. Be our guest. While all the cabins are solid wood structures, with screens, shutters and electricity — they are nothing special beyond that. I love to tease moms that they never would agree to sleep in a Kingswood cabin, but their boys will dream all winter long of the fabulous camaraderie and fun of Kingswood cabin life. Rest assured, however, that we do everything in our power to have the cabins clean and spit-polished on drop-off day.
Regarding when to depart yourselves, allow me to suggest that moms and dads discuss this emotional moment beforehand and have a basic plan in place. No doubt, each family is different and we respect that. I recall a brilliant tradition, several years repeated, when dad drove son in the family jeep, opening the door just quickly enough to deposit boy and baggage but without the wheels coming to a total stop. “Hi Bob, bye Bob,” was the annual greeting and both the family and this director got a huge chuckle from the event. Others, naturally, cling, and the camp policy is to let you stay put until you feel the time is right for departing. However, allow me to BEG you to (1) contain your own emotions, (2) do not expect to witness your son making a new friend in the first hour of camp. Number two above will not commence until you are gone. Trust me when I tell you that the counselors are looking forward for all boys to arrive and all parents to depart so that they can get down to having that initial cabin meeting, where all introductions are made, cabin rules discussed, and the beginnings of cabin togetherness fashioned. Newcomers to Kingswood, especially, picture some forlorn creature in the taillights as they pull off the property. That might even be true, but, so what? Your son will quickly learn that what may have appeared to him as a hopeless situation soon turned out to be a most promising opportunity.
Lastly, for parents who are sending sons to camp by public transportation, you may rest assured that that our staff will make your son feel at home as quickly as possible. Counselors are present to greet these boys as soon as the bus arrives. As I tell the boys on the first evening of camp, “I, too, am nervous today and I have decades of camp experience.” Early in the next morning you can expect to find my first photo blog of the session and in it, my assurances that all went remarkably well on drop off day — and the photographic evidence to support the contention.
Dealing with an Adjustment to Camp Life
The following sentences are taken from the Kingswood Staff Manual and are discussed at length during orientation week before the boys arrive: “Beware that homesickness can strike at any age. The problem for us is not so much to ascertain “why” a boy feels homesick, but “what” to do about it now. The symptoms are easy to spot: apathy, lethargy, lack of appetite, tears. Sometimes a boy will be straightforward with you and tell you he is homesick, while at other times he will invent some excuses, usually unfounded (“No one likes me,” or “It’s boring here.”) The best approach in either case is to give the boy a sympathetic, understanding ear and get him to acknowledge the truth. Once you gain his trust, get the boy to turn his attention to the positive forces of camp while acknowledging the occasional need to return to the homesickness issue. Always try to keep the conversation positive. Be sure not to give the boy permission to call home or to leave camp early. You may assure any boy, however, that I am fully apprised of the situation and will speak to his parents and describe his concerns to them. Lastly, follow up regularly until the homesickness begins to dissipate – in most cases after only a few days.”
Many boys require several days to fully adjust to camp life. Do not be too concerned if the first letters home contain several negative thoughts. Letter-writing, naturally, takes place during down time, the most likely moments for pangs of homesickness to creep into one’s conscience. Before your son leaves for camp, even, you can lay the groundwork for a quick adjustment to life away from home. Rather than reassure your son that he will probably not be homesick, acknowledge that it could happen but is no big deal. When preparing for camp, keep the dialogue positive and under no circumstances tell him that if he is homesick or does not like camp he may leave. Instead, remind your son that homesickness is like a headache – it surely is unpleasant, but short in duration and rarely disabling. Thus prepped by you, a boy who experiences temporary and expected discomfort will have a much less difficult adjustment to camp.
Good Parent Strategies for Yourselves
Parents, too, need an adjustment to camp life! It’s only natural that you, just as much as your son and perhaps even more, will feel the pangs of separation. The best strategy for you is simply to rationalize: camp is a wonderful growing up experience for your son that will enhance his prospects for success down the road when he one day leaves home for good. By all means, enjoy the very short time period you are apart. The time passes exceptionally fast and he’ll be home before you know it. We have a seven-day waiting period before any phone calls from you are welcome. After that adjustment period, we have no problem with an occasional phone call from you to him during meals. However, we strongly urge you not to overdo the privilege. Boys who receive fewer calls from their parents are no less loved than ones who do. They know this, believe me. Sometimes, honestly, boys are embarrassed when they realize everyone sees how many calls they are getting. And, please don’t ever call when you fear you are the one who may break down upon hearing his voice. Call me instead for a report. On the other hand, do not abandon your son either. Kids love mail (regular hand-written letters — something very rare to them in this age) so keep the cards and envelopes coming. One “care package” per session is fine, but don’t overdo this privilege either.
Our family visiting days have been scheduled to correspond with the closing of each regular session. Parents and siblings are cordially invited to arrive at camp at 3 p.m. on the afternoon of the final Thursday of the session to greet your sons and later to take them out for dinner. You may invite friends of your son to join you so long as those boys have received permission from their parents. On Friday, parents are welcome on campus from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. to both observe and participate in a regular camp day. Dinnertime and the evening events are special, and are for the boys only. Families driving boys home may return Saturday morning after 8 a.m. to pack up and depart. If you are unable to attend for any of the above, fret not — all the boys enjoy the final days of the session. While we do not have official visiting days for odd-time departures, parents are most welcome to hang out a bit and capture that essence of Kingswood!