I met one of my oldest friends on my Year 8 camp. She was my Year 9 buddy, and she gave me my first cigarette. Boom: friends for life.
(Joking, she’s also really pretty, so there was more to it than just free smokes.)
I know many parents want to be puritanical about school camps, but let’s be honest, we all remember the shenanigans we got up to. Truth or dare. Contraband lollies. Scratching the tents of your classmates as you went to the loo in the dead of night. Leaving each other in the loos in the pitch dark. Slacking off on the orienteering activity.
Awesome memories. The making (and occasional breaking) of lifelong friends.
Fast forward thirty years, and I’m now a parent sending my son to camp. And all I can do is empathise with my mum who had to do this five times a year for a decade.
It starts with the three page list you’re sent the month prior. Which of course, if you’re anything like me, you look at 48 hours before the camp itself. If it’s a first camp, or they’ve outgrown the sleeping bag/rain jacket/thermals/hiking boots from last year, you’ll find yourself hitting up a discount department store – even though your kid insists they need the “proper stuff” from the shop that people go to when they’re planning to climb Mount Everest.
Would you let your 10-year-old go camping alone? Post continues after…
But no matter how organised you are, invariably there are tears involved. Packing panic tears. “I’m going to miss you” tears. Camp eve excitement “go the f*ck to sleep” tears.
Then there are relief tears when you wave them off on the bus, because there’s one less child in your house for a couple of nights.
And if you’re a sole parent to a sole child like me, IT IS AT LEAST ONE NIGHT OFF. And it’s not like they’re just at a sleepover, and can be returned to you at any time because they’ve decided they’d prefer their own bed.
So. That’s all bearable, but it’s the end of camp that’s the worst.
The novelty of being a child down has worn off, and you remember that you god damn adore that kid and want them back. So you eagerly await the bus at school. But it’s not the reunion you’re expecting, because it’s not your child that gets off that bus.
It’s a filthy, sleep-deprived, hangry, emotionally fraught, little demon.
There’s an immediate demand for food before they’re even within a metre of you. When they get into your personal space, you resist the urge to recoil/vomit at the smell. Because, in total mockery of the toiletries and clean clothes that made up three quarters of that camp list, no personal hygiene has been attended to for days.
As you consider driving through the car wash with the windows down on the way home, your exhausted and fragile child recounts the horrors they've endured since you forced them to go to camp. Mike ate too much lasagne and spewed in the tent. James talked all night. They used Nesquik instead of Milo for the hot chocolates.
And this is all your fault for giving birth to them in the first place.
As you listen patiently to the list of unimaginable suffering, you remember your own camp horrors. The time gastro made a visit and everyone was sent home early. The horrifying moment you learnt that teachers were human and did stuff like eat Weetbix and have bed hair. The trek you were cruelly made to continue on despite falling into the creek at the start because you were too uncoordinated to do something as simple as use a fallen tree as a bridge. The bumps on your face because a mosquito devoured you overnight, but no one believed you, and they just thought you had really bad acne.
But then, after a long shower and some hot pasta, your usually happy child returns. You hear about the amazing stuff. The jokes, the midnight snacks, watching the sports teacher fall off the ropes course into mud. The amaaaazing veggie bake (that sounds exactly like the veggie bake you make but that they've always refused to eat).
They've learnt some new skills, and I don't mean how to read a compass and useless stuff like that. They've learnt resilience because they've been pushed out of their comfort zone. They've learnt team work and co-operation. They've learnt to eat what's put in front of them and not bloody complain about it.
All of which is of course promptly forgotten by the next morning, so benefits you as a parent in no tangible way.
But the kids have #memoriesforlife, and that's all that really matters. At least that's what you tell yourself, as you unpack the untouched camp bag, the contents of which somehow smells like burnt marshmallows...and your pre-camp packing tears.