As a Brit, competitive camping is a world that I'm not privy to. American-style summer camps have only taken off in the last ten years and are not dictated by 150 year old traditions. As such, British camps like Camp Beaumont focus on high energy activities and skills-focused outdoor play. More often than not they are so action packed that there's little time to think about anything other than the itinerary.
However, this month an article in the New York Times revealed the very strange behaviors of American parents who send their children to summer camp.
To you guys in the States, smuggling banned candy inside hollowed-out books and stampeding the campsite come visiting day might seem like business as usual but to me, it seems like madness.
But just how mad is it?
Let's start with exhibit A. This video (below) shows parents arriving for "visiting day" at Tyler Hill Camp, Pennsylvania. Traditionally a special time to spend with your child and get to know their new friends and surroundings, visiting day has morphed into an crazed rush for the most dramatic open-armed embrace. Note how the over-excited parents are contained behind "CAUTION" tape before they are released and watch as they run like Pamplonan bulls, tripping over each other (far left hand corner) as they do so, desperate to reach their beloved off-spring first...
Wait, what? Is that real? Can't be.
Oh, right. It is real. Did you spot the celebratory balloons and the frantic order to "get out the blanket," as if the field is going to be swallowed up?
Now to me, this kind of reaction seems totally absurd. I get that parents miss their children but to break into a spontaneous stampede like that? I've never seen anything like it. Indeed, visiting day has become a competitive sport and according to those two videos, parents turn up in their droves, armed with gifts and competitive declarations of undying love.
Another past time that has been all but ignored in the UK is the art of sending "care packages." Exhibit B. These parcels are characterised by brightly colored goodies that have been prepackaged by the likes of Mirth in a Box, a company that exists purely to provide campers and college grads with boxes full of sugared tat. As more and more camps ban care packages due to the issues they cause among campers (jealousy, theft, not sharing), parents are turning to increasingly elaborate smuggling methods to get elicit treats to their children.
From hiding sweets inside tampons (?!) to taping chewing gum to the pages of magazines, a lot of the evidence is purely anecdotal. However, if you read the comments below the New York Times article, a fair few parents admit to doing similar things -- despite the fact they have to sign a contract prior to camp promising that they won't.
A.J from the Midwest confesses, "I have no problem saying that I sent a care package of some sort 2 or 3 times a week. Not food. My kids camp was kosher and no outside food was allowed. But I sent comic books. Jacks. Nail polish kits. Card games. Lots of things for color wars. And something to be shared with the entire cabin. Like bracelets."
Conversely, YD from New York argues, "Do these kids hate being at camp so badly that they need fun toys and foods smuggled in? Why not just save yourself the trouble and not send them to camp at all?"
I guess the difference in the UK is that camp doesn't last as long. Typically, holidays are broken down into 1 or 2 week periods meaning you don't get the same level of separation anxiety or hysteria. As for the competitive elements, that's something I'm struggling to come to terms with, let alone explain. Care packages must have become extremely flamboyant if camps have been forced to ban them which makes me wonder if the homesickness of summer camp impacts parents more than children?
What do you think? Has visiting day gone too far or is it an encouraging display of affection? Would you smuggle banned items to your kid at camp?
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