Our adventurous kids head to the same overnight Christian sports camp every year–Summer’s Best Two Weeks in Somerset, PA, a not-too-distant rural suburb of our beloved Steelers’ hometown. I could wax poetic about the picturesque location: pine-draped shoreline cuddled up close to a deep blue reservoir, two-story timber cabins reaching skyward, peeking through the pine needles to watch the sun rise over the breeze-tickled water.
With every trip to deliver and retrieve our camp-loving kiddos, my husband and I find ourselves standing in awe of the place our children are blessed to call home for two weeks of every summer. If only we’d had the chance to experience this camp, with its Christian foundation, its glorious shoreline location, its boundless sports activities, its mentoring counselors, and inspiring staff. We are hooked–which means we’ve become some of the most prolific writers of letters to camp–at least in our small part of this great big world. We’ve learned some valuable lessons along the way, ones I thought I’d share today on this blog.
AT SB2W, the only way form of communication between parents and children are letters–no emails or phone calls. Of course, if you’re worried about your flesh and blood (which happened to me in year one), you can call the staff office and have them check on your camper. That calmed my worries as a camp mom newbie. Now, after six summers, I know when to send mail, how often, what to include in care packages, and when to expect mail from my campers–so I do not succumb to another parental panic attack. So here goes, with a top ten list:
(1) Mail delivery is a BIG DEAL at every camp. You must make time to write. Think Blue’s Clues’ mail time. Imagine every camper sitting on their cots waiting to see if the counselors will utter the most-wanted phrase of the afternoon: “You’ve got mail.” Recognize this, and get your pen and paper ready, with plenty of stamps on your desktop.
(2) Make sure that your first letter or care package arrives BEFORE your camper does. That way, he/she will have a letter on day one or two–depending on how quickly mail is dispersed.
(3) Add a family photo to the first delivery, whatever form that takes. Better yet, fill a dollar-store photo album with family pics and include it in your first care package (or even sneak it into their duffel bag without their knowledge). This little reminder from home will help calm the inevitable homesickness. Yes, they all get a little homesick–even the older ones. Don’t fret–it’s normal, and working through it empowers them even more.
(3) Take turns with your spouse, or another willing relative. My husband and I alternate writing letters to all four kids every single day–mailing our final letter on the Tuesday before Friday pickup. We know that any letters sent after Tuesday won’t land at camp before we do. Some days, we’ll both send something–but we know that at least one of us covers the duty daily.
(4) Invite grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, even neighborhood friends to write. I send out a family email with the camp address the week before they leave. This year, the kids received a letter from one grandmom, a package from another, a postcard from their NJ cousins, a handmade card from their Aunt Kathy with a $1 tucked inside, and several letters and packages from best friends and–in the case of my older teen boys, letters from their girlfriends.
(5) Zany, over-the-top letters get the best reception. My husband tells outlandish tales with every missive–and includes an age-appropriate brain teaser that they discuss all the way home. Talking about the mundane stuff at home is tedious to write, and not so interesting to read. Channel your inner child; be wacky for a while.
(6) Pen a letter from the family pet. The kids always get a kick out of hearing from one of our four-legged critters, be it from Des, our pet gecko, Whimsy, Cady’s gerbil, or Jewel and Blossom, our nutty Snowshoe Siamese furballs. Taking on the voice of a household pet leads you down all kinds of imaginative paths. Just go there. You can be sure this will be one of the letters read aloud to cabinmates.
(7) Decorate the envelopes/packages. As a former Creative Memories scrapbooking addict, I have dresser drawers stuffed with stickers and specialty pens. During camp weeks, I pull out my treasure trove of colorful stickers and make nearly every letter an extra special delivery. I use alphabet letters to write messages, or add their names in big, bold colors. I create scenes with beach and zoo stickers (or what have you). A giraffe teeters on a surfboard. A spottted puppy leaps over a globe. My eldest daughter, home alone with the parents, likes to gripe that I spend hours prepping camp letters every day. Well, with four at camp for two weeks, I admit to getting slightly carried away every now and then. :)
(8) Customize a mass mailing. When you’ve got four letters to deposit in the mailbox before noon, there are some days when the handwritten letter just isn’t going to happen. That’s perfectly okay. Fact is, handwritten or typed, every letter delivers a hug from home. I’ll start with one Word-generated letter for Child #1, and then customize a paragraph or two for Children #2, #3 and #4. Sometimes, they’ll all get the same family update–and I still feel like Supermom when I lick the envelopes and beat the mailman to the box.
(9) Insert a riddle, brainteaser, word search or kid-friendly joke. Just Google what you need. There are so many sites teeming with camp letter-worthy inclusions.
(10) Be good for at least one amazing care package. SB2W, where our kids head every June, doesn’t allow electronics or edible treats of any kinds. So what do you put in a care package that can’t contain candy or cookies? Bandanas, glow-in-the-dark necklaces and bracelets to share with cabinmates, nail polish, tattoos, frisbee, colored pencils and a small sketch pad, books, word finds/searches, colorful Mardi Gras necklaces, facepaint, puzzles, journal, inflatable beach balls, deck of cards, small boxed travel games like checkers or Uno, watercolors, crazy socks, outrageous shoelaces, pre-addressed stationery and stamps, pet photos, crafts like scratch art or friendship bracelet kits, baseball cap or visor, and so much more. For inspiration, visit www.orientaltrading.com. Every year, I end up shipping something to camp that’s necessary–like shorts this year for Bryan, my 6′ 14-year-old, or a second bathing suit to Cady. Amazon Prime is a great resource that always comes in handy at camp time.
As for kids writing home, go with the “under promise, over deliver” philosophy. Manage your expectations. Allow a week for the first letter to arrive. If it makes its way home before then, hooray! Small town post offices can be overwhelmed by the sudden influx of camper mail–and it takes a while to sort and distribute at camp central. Keep writing your letters even if letters aren’t coming home. They’re our children, after all. And we love them beyond words–even those we desperately want to see in their letters home from camp. :)
Be blessed and be a blessing,
Martha, Loudoun Crazy Mom