Camp closing can be such a rush for the parents and campers — a rush of emotions, of frantically gathering personal items from around camp, of seeing old faces and meeting new ones, and of time passing too quickly. There’s that first moment you get to hold your daughter and tell her in person how much you love and missed her. You may have the younger daughter who seems a little clingy that first day of closing and upset when you decide not to attend Memorial Vespers that night. Or the older daughter who hugs you briefly, affirms her love for you as well, and then goes back to hang out in her tepee because she knows that she gets another 20 hours to hang with her camp friends. As the parent, you are still a visitor at camp and have not resumed your official parental duties yet.
After the Naming of the Braves, everyone eats lunch as a Heart family, and then you rip off the “good-bye” band-aid. For some campers, there’s an immediate sting and relief may come by the Hunt Store when she’s already passed out in the back seat. For others, an open wound may persist that is slow to heal. Your daughter may develop mild to moderate symptoms of a very common disorder over the next few weeks or months. Depending on the age and hormone level of the camper, her symptoms may be undetectable at first, gradually intensify, or appear to resolve spontaneously. Whichever the manifestation, parents should be aware and supportive of the often recurring effects of Post-Camp Longing Disorder (PCLD), aka campsickness.
For these girls, camp is like being on a private cruise with your best friends for 2-4 weeks — surrounded by a supportive staff, engaging in plenty of activities, and indulging in wonderful food. They are isolated from the tragic stories that flood our social media. A tragic moment for a camper might be when Jane only serves pistachio ice cream at her party; or the Head staff busts the seniors/teens before they can finish an epic prank; or it rains on the night of Final Tribe Hill. These girls live in each moment, and for many, these moments can be intense, soul-searching, and life-changing. Whether having a war canoe devotional or a shaving cream fight with their tepee, campers may experience a broad-spectrum of emotions from unconditional love and admiration to pure joy and excitement.
Depending on whether you have a 1st or 2nd term camper, you may start to see PCLD signs/symptoms in mid-July or mid-August which may include, but are not limited to, fatigue, irritability, sadness, apathy, withdrawn behavior, and denial; and even the opposite extreme of increased energy, elevated mood, and inclusive behavior. You might get lots of camp comparisons and requests to honor camp traditions at home. Could we order pizza tonight since it’s Sunday? Could we sing a camp song after dinner? Could we watch a movie as a family on Saturday night? You might have a camper who isn’t excited about the coming school year because school friends may not understand why camp is so important to your daughter. Your camper may only want to talk about camp memories and her camp friends which may also make her feel isolated from her peers. She may feel like no one “gets” her the way that her camp friends do which may lead to feelings of hopelessness.
First and foremost, parents should recognize the signs of campsickness in their daughter and validate these emotions. Try to offer support by saying, “I can’t imagine how difficult this time must be for you — missing camp and your camp friends so much;” or “I can tell that you are sad and may feel lonely, but let’s make some time for you to talk to your camp friends.” If you were a former camper or counselor, then share some of your personal experiences from your camping days; e.g. pull out an old yearbook and look at photos of you dressed in silly clothes, share stories of pranks that you pulled, and remind her of the lasting camp friendships that you made years ago. If camp is a new concept to your family, then try to learn as much from your daughter (sometimes that can be challenging); re-read Jane’s daily updates about the term and then watch the online videos; review your camper’s parent reports from her counselor; and network with other camp parents. Learn about the different tribes and honor the traditions because the kiss of death as a parent is when you accidentally yell, “Swim, froggie, swim!” to your Pawnee daughter at the final swim meet. Help your daughter maintain those camp connections during the school year by encouraging her to write letters/emails to her camp friends, find time to video chat, or even make plans with other camp parents to have your daughters meet during the off season. By better understanding why your daughter longs for The Heart, her camp family, and those treasured memories, you will develop a stronger connection with your daughter and a deeper respect for all that camp offers.
Sending your child to summer camp may be the best investment you can make in your daughter’s personal growth and development; however, the experience may also create new or recurring emotions that are often times very profound. Be prepared. Be empathic. Be proactive.
Editor’s Note: Meredith Hill is a former Heart O’ the Hills counselor and Head O’ Field Sports. Two of her children are old enough to attend The Heart and Camp Stewart.
As always, share your thoughts, stories, and advice in the comments below!