Damp, From Camp



This essay originally appeared in the Poughkeepsie Journal, back in the day when I wrote a column oxymoronically entitled “Understanding Adolescence.” (As if that were even possible!)  My kids have all departed their teens, but I still have camp envy! Enjoy!

             A sure sign that summer is in full swing is the coming and going of kids to and from the magical kingdom of sleep-away camp. Spending a summer with 18 of your very best friends, living in a rustic fashion, can be a very liberating experience for many kids, although they may need to be re-programmed when they get back. Societal constraints are so limiting.

A sure sign that my teenage daughter has returned from camp is that everything she owns is…damp. Not just musty, camp damp, but damp with the sorrow of summer adventures left behind, of relationships marked with a fierce intensity, of yearning and longing…to return…to camp. The car ride home from the Berkshires is a thrilling ride, stories of bunk life and showering with shoes on, triumphant color war victories, of getting over on the Evil Counselor from Some Unknown Country with a can of shaving cream. The thrill of romance! The day we all dressed Goth! The Big Banquet! I want to go!

I have camp envy! I want to go live in a bunk with all my girls! I want to wear jammies all day! I want to complain about the food, and have my greatest worry be whether or not my mom will be able to successfully sneak contraband goodies into camp via the old “Re-Stuff the Teddy Bear Trick”.  I want to come home…damp.

The power of camp, for a lot of kids, is that it is their first experience in living away from their families. While still subject to authority, they have the fierce strength of an army of their peers behind them. This is heady stuff for adolescents. Camp is a very growing time, with an enormous learning curve. Young teens are great observers of each other’s behavior, and the bunk is a great observatory. It very quickly becomes clear which personality traits separate Camp Captain from Camp Flirt.

In the strange but wonderful loyalty of the camp social system, regardless of what social transgressions your kid may have committed, your bunk has your back. This entails intense drama for some teens who are experimenting with relationships and freedom outside of home base. Some kids master this effortlessly, and for others it is very difficult. The freedom to color outside the lines a little can be heady or scary.

Every year, when my daughter comes home for camp, I am impressed with the scope of her adventures, but more importantly, with the depth of her relationships with her camp friends. Social Media and cell phones have made it possible for camp friends to stay in close touch, and they do. They celebrate each other’s successes and weep for each other’s losses, from all around the world. The bond they share is somewhat indescribable— the kind of passionate friendship and acceptance that comes from sleeping 18 to a room, and sharing one massive wardrobe, I guess.

My daughter’s camp experience is about her friends more than anything. She and her pals all flourish in a society where girls can freely walk arm in arm without being called names, and where girl-loyalty supersedes girl-boy-loyalty. She enjoys a little drama, without the school-year knowledge that at every waking moment she and her middle school peers are on display for the social Queen Bees who can make or break 8th grade. She has an opportunity, every summer, to explore who she is in a space that is peer-driven but somehow wonderfully nourishing. It is worth eleven months of longing, beginning the second she comes home, and ending the day we drop her off the following summer.

Every summer, she comes home a little stronger, a little wiser, a little more true to herself. Each year as I let her go, I find my eyes are…damp. And when she’s back? I am cracking up until I cry, listening to stories of the bunk she left behind, and happy to have her back, until next summer!

About Allison B Friedman

Allison B. Friedman, known to her friends as Allie, submitted her first manuscript to Doubleday when she was five years old. Sadly, it was rejected, but she did receive a personal note from an editor encouraging her to keep writing—so she did. Writing, like breathing, is essential for Allie, who has joyfully produced award-winning short fiction, prose poetry, years and years of newspaper and magazine columns, and original content for a weekly radio show called “The Therapy Sisters.” Allie’s work has been featured in a number of small literary presses, including the literary journal Beanskeeper, and she was a winner of the Poughkeepsie Journal’s “Tailspinners” short story contest. An active member of the Wallkill Valley Writers community, Allie has published her work in the group’s anthology. Her short story, “Sahara Affair,” was born in the Wallkill Valley Writers Workshop, and was published in 2013’s award-winning anthology, “Slant of Light: Contemporary Women Writers of the Hudson Valley.” A practicing psychotherapist, Allie wrote a newspaper column, oxymoronically entitled “Understanding Adolescence” and a monthly column about wellness in “Living and Being” magazine for a number of years. The voyeuristic observation of the intricacies of the human experience is endlessly fascinating to her. She has been a frequent contributor to a number of professional websites, including the Parent Resource Network, where Allie served as a staff writer and was on-call for the website’s “Ask the Expert” feature. Allie was honored to deliver a keynote address at the annual conference of the National Association of Social Workers on the subject of utilizing creativity in social work practice. Allie’s love of writing led to the creation of a therapeutic writing curriculum, which has been well received by her clients. Allie lives in New Paltz, NY with her wonderful husband and, at any given moment, some or all of their collective seven children. She wouldn’t know an empty nest if she was sitting in one. Current projects include a the completion of a novel which she swears will not defeat her, building a blog, and spending as much time as possible with her newly minted granddaughter!

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