By: Randi Goodman

And just like that, they cancelled sleep-away camp this summer. The email alert on my phone when I woke was a punch to the gut.  Even when you can see it coming, it still hurts to know for sure.

The first thing to tackle was breaking the news to the kids.  How could I spin this in a positive light? How could I keep the bitterness about our lost summer plans from creeping in?  And how could I do these things without going completely out of control with overcompensation?

We discussed the pros and cons of the camp experience, and what we actually go to camp for.  We talked about how weird it would be to go but not be able to hug our friends. How incredibly hard it would be to stay six feet away from loved ones that we haven’t seen in in a year.  Summer camp culture has a 10 for 2 motto.  We get through 10 months of the year with the other 2 being our goal, our happy place.  Now, I’m working on reframing that.  The silver lining is that this culture in a way has trained us for the current situation.  We are used to keeping in touch with people from afar for extended periods of time.  We are used to being confined to a certain amount of space with the same people every single day.  We have learned to transition to and from camp each year, which is an enormous change of routine, scenery, people, and even the foods that are available to us.

I myself have had to dig deep.  I have spent my own summers away at camp, living the 10 for 2 since I was 7 years old.  Before I was even an overnight camper, when my older brother went away and I just got visit, I was already hooked!  The next year, I was old enough to go and then returned each subsequent summer moving up from camper to staff to supervisor.  I’m what you’d call a “lifer” and my children are lucky enough to be second generation campers at our home away from home.

Digging back even deeper, I can remember my summers before sleepaway camp.  I can remember summers on the block in Brooklyn, with big wheels, ice cream trucks, and long days full of mosquito bites, skinned knees, and sunburned shoulders; wonderful summer memories even without summer camp. Before I knew it, I had filled my amazon cart with slip n slides, kiddie pools, and water balloons, hoping to recreate wonderful summer-at-home memories.  Realizing I needed to dial it back some, I settled for jacks, bubbles, chalk, and a wish list. 

Next, I got the notification for my kids annual IEP review and yet another factor clicked into place in my mind. My children have both turned down ESY (extended school year) every summer in order to go away to camp.  PT and OT were replaced with sports and walking and hiking in the woods.  Social skills groups were replaced with campfire chatter and turn taking and sharing a living space with others.  These have been amazing for my kids.  Wholesome, healthy, natural subsitutes to these therapies have allowed them to take a break each year without any major regressions.  With the amount of school they’ve now missed due to quarantine, it will be nice for them to have the consistency of being able to still see their teachers faces and have their guidance, even if only virtually. 

I began reaching out to my parent friends, to trade tips and tricks.  We reminisced about how much the kids used to like water tables, and we figured out who has extra hula hoops.  Even apart, we are able to lean on each other.  This summer is going to involve some form of summer school, probably virtually.  At this stage…hopefully virtually.  There will be a lot of playing in the yard, a lot of sunscreen, a lot of dirty feet.  There will be late nights with magical moments with fireflies, and some lazy, boring afternoons.  I am equally excited and terrified. But somehow, I think we are going to find a very healthy blend of old and new summer traditions, and we will all thrive together.

Disclaimer: Our camp has cancelled the first half. The second half is still to be determined. Many other camps have made the decision to close. Some have chosen to remain open. We are all trying to make the best and most safe decisions.