My Definition Of Summer Camp

I never went to summer camp as a kid. When I was young, I played outdoors all summer long, all day, every day, with the kids on my block. When I was older, I played organized sports all summer long. Summer camp was my idea of a hazy, unknown, sleep-away nightmare. Certain to be nothing but hordes of strange kids, potential drownings, and rampant food poisoning.

I knew the song Camp Granada. Poison Ivy? Alligators in the lake? Ptomaine poisoning? Searching parties?

I’d seen the movie Parent Trap. I’d witnessed the on-screen horror of Camp Inch.

Waking up in my cot, trapped in a tangle of string, covered in honey and toothpaste and straw? No thank you.

Getting tipped over in my canoe by my doppelganger and her nasty sidekicks? Sounds like a one-way ticket to a lung full of microbe-infested lake water for this non-swimming camper.

Having the backside of my dress snipped away without my knowledge while I dance to the latest Annette Funicello song with the cutest boy from the next camp over at the big shindig? Oh, the embarrassment!

My pictures of Ricky Nelson flying off the wall into a pool of rain, as a wind storm sweeps through the cabin window? In pre-internet days, it would have taken me six weeks to send for replacement head shots. The agony!

And who needs a birdcage made out of popsicle sticks anyway? Not this chickadee.

I won’t even get into the possibility of discovering I had a twin sister I never knew about. I WAS an only child after all…or WAS I?

I will admit walking down to the commissary for a popsicle with my best friend did sound like a blast, but I had popsicles in my own freezer.

My bottom line response to the question of summer camp? Um. Yeah, no. Pass.

With this in mind, you can imagine my trepidation at the thought of the elementary school rite of passage known as Outdoor Ed. Every sixth-grader in my school district, but me, seemed to look forward to being dumped in the forest for two days and a night. Alright. It was a 4-H Camp with cabins, but you might as well have told me as a requirement to enter sixth-grade I would be plucked from my family and forced to spend two days and a night fending for myself on Mars. I would have had the same reaction.

My handmade "Elm" combination identification badge and activity journal still has a 25 year old bug smashed into the Arts and Crafts page.
My handmade “Elm” combination identification badge and activity journal still has a 25 year old bug smashed into the Arts and Crafts page.

Did I analyze soil samples? Did I wrap yarn around sticks I’d foraged for? Did I learn about rocks? And ants?

According to the pencil scribblings in my handmade activity journal I did all those things.

I don’t remember any of it.

What I do remember are these two things: 1. Thinking the high school senior assigned as the counselor for my group was super cool. 2. My bladder nearly exploding.

The only part of this whole camp nightmare I was vaguely looking forward to was a unit called Project Adventure. Twenty-five years later I remember it as really tall wooden ladders and rope bridges and zip lines. Why I would have looked forward to this, I have no idea. As an adult who’s not too fond of heights, that sounds awful to me. But, as an athletic kid, I used to climb trees, and even though I loved science, a zip line probably sounded more exciting to me than scraping up pond scum and sticking it under a microscope.

My Project Adventure session was scheduled right after lunch. As they announced it was time to get ready to go, a large swarm of kids headed for the restrooms. I ended up at the back of the throng. I say throng, because sixth-graders aren’t orderly by nature. It wasn’t a line, it was a free-for-all. Assertive was NOT my middle name at age 11. When they started yelling at everyone that the groups were leaving, I still had not gotten my turn. I really…really had to go, but I was afraid I’d be left behind and lost. To be clear, I wasn’t afraid of missing out on the fun of the zip line, I was afraid of getting in trouble for being late. Not only was I not assertive, I was a major people-pleasing, rule-following, don’t-put-anybody-out-of-their-way kid. I left the building without going to the bathroom and went and joined my group just as it was leaving.

I know where you think this story is going and it’s not. I did NOT have an accident high atop the rope bridge. Thankfully, I was spared the horror that sixth-grade nightmare would have been. No, instead I simply had an awful time. I was miserable during the one thing I was looking forward to. I was in pain, I had to go to the bathroom so badly. I’m sure if my bladder could talk, it would still be telling the story to this day, 25 years later.

Let that be a lesson, kids! Make sure to dehydrate yourself before the zip line. No. That’s not the lesson. Don’t be afraid to tell someone if you have a problem. That’s the lesson to be learned here.

So, why all this talk of summer camps, you ask?

Last Saturday was the first day of summer. Finding myself with a free weekend, a fresh perspective, and a modified definition of “camp”, I decided I was going to have my own personal weekend version of summer camp (read: I would do a few sort of camp-like things during the day and then spend the night in my own comfy house).

I was going to go hiking in Fontenelle Forest.

I was going to learn how to ride the bicycle I bought last summer and never used. I haven’t ridden a bike in twenty years. It’s going to take some practice to remember how. I have a feeling my body may be balanced a tad differently than it was years ago.

The last time I rode a bike it was all banana seats, bells, and Spokey Dokeys, the beads on the spokes that made noise when you rode.
The last time I rode a bike it was all banana seats, bells, and Spokey Dokeys, the beads on the spokes that made noise when you rode.

I was going to finish reading at least one of the books I previously started, loved, and abandoned.

I was going learn to play the guitar. Playing the guitar has always been a dream of mine, and I was recently able to borrow one from a friend to see if I can really get the hang of it before buying my own.

The fun and games were supposed to start bright and early Saturday morning.

And then it rained.

Friday night, storm after storm trained over my neighborhood, dumping 8 inches of rain in just a few hours. There was flash flooding in the streets, creeks were overflowing their banks, and my basement was taking on water like a canoe woven out of summer camp friendship bracelets.

The storms kept me up all night and by the time I groggily awoke the next day, summer camp outdoors in the newly muddied swamps of my humid homeland was sounding like about as much fun as it did to me 25 years ago.

I did read one chapter of one book and practice the guitar for a half hour, but by lunch I was knee-deep in a stack of dvds and I had carved just the right amount of comfy into the pillows and blankets on my sofa.

And there I stayed the rest of the weekend – at Shannon’s Summer Camp Of The Sofa.

Best camp ever! I’m going back again this weekend!

I hope you all get a chance to spend some time at your own camp this summer. Whatever the best version of that is for you!


8 thoughts on “My Definition Of Summer Camp”

  1. My favorite one… so far. My questions for you is this…? Watching DVDs while curled up on the sofa was a perfect opportunity to build a popsicle stick birdhouse, yet there is no photo of one…

    Epic fail, and opportunity missed.

    As far as camp goes, I went to Boy Scout camp ever summer from age 13-18. Yes, even after I dropped out of high school I stayed in scouting. Why…? Because my friend Danny Ferrin and I skipped all the merit badge classes, canoe lessons, and the rifle range in favor of staying in our tent, sipping Bacardi 151 out of an aluminum canteen, and taking 4 hour naps. Sad, but true.

    Your more recent version of camp — adult camp is definitely more appealing. The guitar is more fun to listen to than to play. Biking though, that’s another story. Go ride some time, it’s good medicine…


    1. D’oh! You’re right, Roy! Epic fail. I didn’t have any popsicles in the freezer though, only Drumstick ice cream cones. I DID make a popsicle stick picture frame years ago (of my own volition even). Sadly, it did not survive to this point or else I could have posted a pic and pretended I just created it on my sofa. I agree on the biking. If it ever stops raining and storming here, I promise to give it a try! Also…there’s no “Napping” merit badge in scouting? Talk about epic fail! I thought scouting was supposed to prepare you for life!


  2. “To be clear, I wasn’t afraid of missing out on the fun of the zip line, I was afraid of getting in trouble for being late.” Bahahahaha! Yes, that is the Shannon I fondly remember. I was the same way, but there is no way I wouldn’t have sweet talked my way to the front of the bathroom line.


    1. Oh, if only you and I had been in sixth grade together! I know you would have figured out a way to get to the front of the bathroom line, then I would have been able to follow your lead and say, “I’m with her!” I also know you wouldn’t have left me behind.


  3. I think you might be my soul’s doppleganger! Always felt the same way about summer camp (and so never went) and also was the only kid who didn’t really want to go to Outdoor School in 6th grade! And I was the only one who HATED it. I got to bunk with the girl in our class that no one liked (such a great reward for being “the only girl mature enough to handle it”) while my best friends got to be together, our high school counselors got us lost in the woods (we ended up making a very long hike back on the highway), and I went home with a raging ear infection that kept me out of school for the whole week after we returned. I would by far prefer the couch/DVD version of summer camp any day, to this day! Thanks for giving me a smile this afternoon.


    1. Your comment made me laugh out loud! I, too, was often “rewarded” for being the mature one. At least you were able to cap the nightmare off with a whole week off school, even factoring in makeup homework and the pain of the ear infection, that still comes out as a win in my sixth grade scorebook.


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