These two words stir up a lot of memories for a lot of us, whether it’s because we were campers or counselors ourselves or watched corny ’70s/’80s camp comedies.
My mom had fond memories of going to camp when she was a kid (who wouldn’t at a place called Storybook Lodge?). Like a lot of parents, she wanted me to go, too. I wasn’t as brave as she was, though, so Brownie day camp was just enough for me. We built campfires, whittled wood with pocket knives, and painted rainbows on t-shirts—AND we got home in time for supper and a bedtime snack.
The one time she got me to go to a sleepover camp was during the summer after fifth grade. To be honest, I was completely miserable. For one, I didn’t pack warm enough clothes for the chilly mornings and had to wear the same navy blue cable-knit sweater every day because it had a flap on the back that would convert to a turtleneck that matched the nerdiness of my thick glasses. 😉
Also, I went with two of my friends and ended up being the odd ball out (groups of three never work at that age, do they?). No one really noticed I was super lonely—it was the ’80s, after all, when we just rubbed dirt in our wounds and got on with it. Everyone else was having the time of their lives while I wandered around by myself. I remember hanging out in the art building, wishing I could go home and put my nose back in my book.
Growing up as a country kid whose parents couldn’t afford activities like sports or dance, I didn’t really learn how to get in there and advocate for myself. It was easier to sink into the background and count the minutes until my mom came to get me before a family trip to the East Coast. It was the longest half-week of my little life. I wished my experience had been like The Parent Trap…or Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown...or even Meatballs. But it wasn’t.
When my son went to a week-long summer camp to learn how to be a school patrol captain after his fifth grade year, I had high hopes that he would have a much better time than I did. It turned out that he was miserable, too—and he was just as happy to see us roll in to rescue him as I had been back in 1983. He told me later that the thing that got him through was getting our snail mail letters (thank God I didn’t drop that parenting ball). Summer camp is just not in the Matts genes.
My camp experience was on my mind this morning. My husband and I were invited by our friend Dr. Rebecca Schlafer (who is also an Associate Professor in the Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Health at the University of Minnesota) to a fundraising brunch for Children of Incarcerated Caregivers, a Minneapolis nonprofit that works to support kids impacted by parental incarceration. It was a powerful experience in which we heard about not only the summer camp program but also other positive impacts CIC has made through programs such as the Prison Nursery Project, which seeks alternatives to caregiver separation due to incarceration.
As I sat there today, I thought…man. I was so lonesome for my mom, and I was only separated from her for 3-4 days. What must these kids be feeling? I missed my son terribly, and he was only gone for a week. What must these parents be feeling?
I urge you to recognize that trauma is woven throughout the lives and experiences of Incarcerated Persons and their families. I also urge you to consider supporting the work of CIC. $50 is enough to fill a backpack of supplies for kids who deserve to go to camp because they’re kids. Think about the healing power of laughter and fun—and the healing their caregivers will get from knowing their kids are having an experience a lot of us take for granted.
It’s imperative to recognize and support the humanity of all people. All of us are more than our pasts, choices, and traumas. All of us deserve the chance to heal and start again with appropriate support.
Please consider supporting programs like CIC. Help send a kid to summer camp where they will make lasting memories of their own (hopefully MUCH better than mine). You may never know the impact even a small donation will make, but they’ll know, and so will their caregivers.