Who would have thought I'd be writing about sleep away camp! I would never have imagined that the request to go to camp would have become a dinner topic late last August. But our then eight year old wanted to join in on the fun her friends were having at camp. While it was hard to imagine her going away for a week and not having contact with her, Matt and I agreed to look into it. We pretty much followed the lead of what the other families we knew were doing and signed her up to attend one week of camp at Camp Tecumseh in Brookston, Indiana. By tapping into the knowledge of other parents who paved the way to summer camp, we knew we were selecting a safe, engaging environment that would focus on developing independence, confidence and deep friendships with those Eleanora spent time with at camp.
We pretty much had ten months to prepare for the week at summer camp, but in typical fashion, I was running what I call "camp errands" up to the minute we left. Eleanora's must haves for camp included, Chips Ahoy! cookies, Pringles, Teddy, sunscreen that wouldn’t make her face as white as a ghost, and 10 pre-addressed and stamped envelopes to me so she could send me letters. This was in addition to the actual camp stuff she needed...
Eventually, seven days worth of camp essentials were packed neatly into purple plastic drawers she picked out at the Container Store on one of our camp errands. As Matt loaded these into the trunk, Eleanora asked if I would sit with her on the car ride to camp. I hadn’t sat in the backseat with Eleanora since she was a newborn coming home from the hospital on June 12, 2007. Of course I’m going to sit in the backseat!!
I think she and I were both nervous as to what the week would bring, so it was nice to spend this time together. We played multiple rounds of Spot It, read a few chapters of Out of My Mind, and drew pictures of the one and only "Teddy" (her teddy bear of course). But as we got further into the trip, she put her head on my lap and had me tickle her back. She asked lots of questions about what I thought things would be like at camp. I could only guess because I wasn’t a camp kid growing up so we talked about what I knew for sure – the camp menu that had been posted on the camp’s website. She was convinced she wouldn’t like much on the menu but we encouraged her try everything. Honestly, who can’t wrap their head around eating chicken potpie! Thinking she might starve at camp, she requested I make one of her favorite dinners upon her return home – tacos with Judy’s Chocolate Chip cookies for dessert (recipe to follow). Before we knew it, we were driving down the gravel road leading us to Camp Tecumseh.
Two counselors greeted us giving us directions on where to park for check-in. We truly avoided the check-in lines as we were one of the last families to sign-in. She made a name badge, got the names of her camp counselors and off we drove over to her cabin. No sooner did Matt put the car in park, Eleanora was greeted by her friends who told her to get her swimming suit on as it was time for the swim test!
Matt and I grabbed Eleanora’s stuff, walked her into the cabin and grabbed her swimming suit out of one of the plastic purple drawers. I have never seen Eleanora move so fast and get changed and ready to go somewhere in less than two minutes! We said our goodbyes and she was off!
Matt and I stayed in the cabin to get her bed made and set up her bunk area. The temperatures had skyrocketed and the heat index was 107F - Matt and I were dripping in sweat (and now a little crabby) as we worked quickly to put her bed together and figure out where to put the 8-inch clip on fan that would hopefully help cool her off and lull her to sleep when she finally hit that hay later that night. Matt and I both wrote her a note and placed it next to Teddy on her bed and we headed out to the car. That was it – our kid literally jumped right in.
I am so proud of Eleanora and am grateful that she gets this opportunity to experience summer sleep away camp. But as we drove away from the cabin, my eyes filled with tears. I missed her already. I know as a parent one of my jobs is to help Eleanora become independent and make good choices in life. This is a perfect opportunity for her to grow in each of these areas. All I can say is the days go by in a blink – it’s hard to believe she was ready for sleep away camp and it’s not easy to say goodbye even if it is only for a week.
While I don't and won't have the camp memories she is making this week, and I have not received one single letter from camp, I do have the wonderful memories of our journey to Brookston, Indiana. Not only is my first backseat car ride with Eleanora a special memory, the memory of the few hours we spent together in the backseat on our drive to Camp Tecumseh will be held in my heart forever - that was my summer camp experience. I can’t wait to hear about hers!
Judy’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 3 ½ dozen cookies
This is from my very good friend Judy. We have enjoyed several treats while visiting her and her husband Jim over the years in New Buffalo, Michigan, but this cookie made a huge impression on Eleanora. She now requests Judy’s chocolate chip cookies and only Judy makes them just so, but if you follow the recipe and use the times indicated for mixing, you will end up with results that Eleanora first enjoyed one special summer day in July on their boat.
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter or margarine, room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips*
Place sugar, brown sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla in a bowl of a stand mixer. Using the flat beater turn mixer to speed 2 and mix for 30 seconds. Stop and use a spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl. Turn to speed 4 and beat for an additional 30 seconds.
Sift flour, salt, and baking soda together. Gradually add flour mixture to sugar mixture on Stir Speed for about 2 minutes. Increase to speed 2 and beat for 30 seconds. Add chocolate chips on Stir Speed and mix for 15 seconds.
Drop by teaspoonful on parchment lined baking sheet, 2 inches apart. Bake at 375°F for 9 to 10 minutes.
*I've also used milk chocolate chips and m&m's. Both work great!