Just The Right Camp
Adapted from “It’s a Boy!” by Michael Thompson, Ph.D. and Teresa Barker
Michael Thompson Ph.D is a NY Times bestselling author, psychologist and school consultant who conducts workshops across the United States on social cruelty, children’s friendships, and boys’ development. His books include “Raising Cain”, “Speaking of Boys”, “Best Friends, Worst Enemies” and many more.
Choosing the right camp for your child means knowing your child; it also means knowing yourself. It raises questions about how to define what the “right” camp is. Is it a camp that is good for your child, in the sense of improving him or her, or is it a camp your child loves? Well, it should be both, don’t you think? Is that possible to find? Here is the story of one father’s psychological journey to finding the right camp for his child.
When my son, Will, was twelve, I believed that it was time for him to go to a sleep-over camp. Looking at my gentle and rather “soft” son on the edge of adolescence, I had a classic father’s reaction. I thought he ought to be more independent, that he needed to get away from his mother’s overprotective hovering, and he could benefit from more outdoor activities so that he could get stronger. Also, he needed to get away from his video games and his laptop computer for a month. (Well, he didn’t think he did, but I sure thought so!)
Why was I so sure that camp was the answer? I’m not sure, but I felt it very strongly. Perhaps I should also confess that when I was thirteen, and a city boy (raised in New York), my mother declared that I was both lazy and obnoxious–she said I was in the “back-talk” stage—and that I should be sent away to camp. So I was sent to an all-boys canoeing camp, which I absolutely loved. It was one of the great experiences of my life. I returned home physically stronger and more confident than I had been two months earlier (and probably still as obnoxious.)
Naturally, I hoped that a camp experience would be the same for my son. I recognized that he was not quite as athletic and outgoing as I had been at the comparable age (and not nearly as contrary), so I chose a camp for him that had many of the same elements as mine had had: all-boys, campfires, canoeing and kayaking, waterfront activities, etc. but which also had the things my son adored which I was never good at: arts, woodworking and dramatics. Somewhat unsure of whether I had chosen the right camp for him, I took him to visit it at the end of the summer a year before he was to attend. He had a great time playing Ultimate Frisbee with a bunch of boys and counselors. He said he liked it. So off he went.
He attended the all-boys’ camp for two years, and I was very proud of him for doing it. He attempted things he had never done before and he took risks, including kayaking and performing in skits in front of the entire camp. He received an art prize at the end of the second season. However, it was unmistakably clear that he wasn’t really comfortable there. He didn’t love it. As kind as the camp staff were, as friendly as the other boys had been, the camp wasn’t really a fit for him. When I went to pick him on the last day of the second year of camp, here was my son, Will, looking stronger, more confident, and more challenging than he had ever been. He looked me in the eye and delivered the news: “Dad,” he said, ‘I don’t want to come back here. This is your kind of camp, not mine. I’m not like you.”
Ouch! That hurt. I had sent him to the type of camp that had been so good for me at that age, and though he had gotten some good things out of it (so I continue to believe) the experience hadn’t been a wonderful for him. Because his mother and I wanted him to have a camp experience that he loved, we went back to the drawing board. This past summer we sent him to Buck’s Rock Camp, a creative and performing arts camp that had ceramics, theatre, wood-working, glass-blowing, and lights, set and sound design, among other offerings He called us up at the end of the first week to report happily that he had gotten a part in “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” and that he was taking a stand-up comedy seminar. On the wood lathe he produced a beautiful martial arts fighting stick, with which he is still practicing daily. He wants to go back next year for the full eight weeks.
The other day I asked Will the following question: “I know that you loved your arts camp much better than the canoe camp, but do you feel you got something out of the canoe camp experience?” “No, Dad,” Will said. “I wish I’d had had those two years to go to Buck’s Rock.” Still casting about, I asked him whether they had had campfires at his arts camp. In an exasperated “duh” tone of voice, he proclaimed, “DA-AAD, it’s not that kind of camp!”
There is a parenting lesson in here somewhere, and I’m searching for it. Did I do the wrong thing by sending him to the kind of camp I had loved? Could I have made a different decision at that time? Is it essential that a child absolutely love every camp experience? Can you predict what a thirteen-year-old will love? (I think not.) Is there some value in a son attempting to do the things his dad wants him to try, and thereby discharge some unconscious obligation to his father and better define his own identity? I hope so, because that’s what happened in this family.
Email from Miriam Mc Donnell, Parent
“My child is great because of the time she spends at Buck’s Rock.”
Email from Mary Pope-Osborn, author of “The Magic Tree House”
“Buck’s Rock played a huge part in the lives of my two nephews. In the summers they spent there, they fell in love with filmmaking, photography, guitar playing and song writing. They kept developing these interests long after camp had ended. For this reason I think of Buck’s Rock as more than just a fun summer camp. I think of it as a gateway into a life filled with creative discovery.”
Email from Robin and Sam Edelston, Parents
“I wanted to share a little background information on our family. Back in high school (more than 30 years ago), my best friend (and her sister) attended Buck’s Rock for two years. It was the best camp she’d ever attended and the skills she learned at camp saw her through several careers.
A few short years ago I was surprised and happy to learn that Buck’s Rock was still around. I brought my oldest daughter for a visit and we both knew it was the right place for her. So she came in 2006 where she explored painting, glass blowing, and ceramics. Then my son visited her and begged to attend, so he started last year and virtually lived with the Improvisation team, and spent some time at the computer shed. And this year my youngest daughter has joined them. I’m told she’s painting and acting in a play. (I’m still waiting to hear from her — she’s having too much fun!)
It’s so nice to have all my kids in one place, and at a camp where each one can explore his and her personal interests, and feel comfortable with so many like-minded people. My oldest has described it as feeling like hanging out with all our folk-music friends. For us this is a terrific endorsement.
Keep up the good work. We are very happy parents”
Email from Brenda Brown, Parent
“Buck’s Rock perfects itself more every year! How it works its magic remains a mystery but it all starts with the care, insights and great instincts of Mickey and Laura and the Buck’s Rock team who create an summer experience of fun that is attuned to each camper’s emotional and creative well being.
Our daughter just finished her third summer and every year just gets better! She arrived a couple of days late but it had already been taken care of that she would be able to have an equal chance at being involved in the first stage play. She had her first lead role at Buck’s Rock which she will always cherish as an amazing experience, both socially and creatively!
Over these three years she has met new campers and has made life long friendships. Buck’s Rock is blessed with a unique atmosphere that fills every camper with the opportunity to be true to themselves in a safe and nurturing environment. Gabrielle has grown in confidence and social abilities as a direct result of being a Buck’s Rock camper. And her words say it best…Buck’s Rock ROCKS!!”
“I’ve Grown as a Person” – Matt Smith
“Like most people, you come to camp with many goals. Should I audition for this play or that one? Should I visit Wood or Leather? However, I think the true goal of Buck’s Rock is beyond the superficial. I believe finding yourself is the true journey a Buck’s Rocker takes throughout a summer. You are challenged enough, but at the same time, free to explore and go beyond your limits. Speaking from personal experience, I have spent the past four summers at camp, and I think I’ve grown as a person, in my acting abilities, but also socially and emotionally. (Camp gives you the chance to intermingle with people of ALL ages — from 10 to 35 — , opposite genders, other campers, counselors, etc.!) A favorite phrase of mine is “Anything can happen if you let it”. Nowhere else is this more true than at Buck’s Rock. ”
The End…Or the Beginning – Kate Schapira
“Once upon a time there was a place that wasn’t heaven, but almost. At first glance it was just a collection of buildings and trees. But when you got there, you began to melt in.
You began to have friends and make things that weren’t always beautiful or useful, but you did have fun making them–and you could always make more. You started to take part in the many crazy activities that infiltrated this wonderful place.
As time went by, you joined the chorus, or dance class, or auditioned for a play, or became a clown, or… anyway, whatever you did, there was no pressure and it was sure to be fun eventually. You even picked up a few inside jokes. “Show me!” you said. “Show me more!” And the counselors, true to their wonderful and usually patient selves, did.
And maybe there were rough spots, days when your pots collapsed and your solder broke and your friends deserted you. But because of the caring and supportive environment, you weathered them. You got through them. And this place began to seem, afterward, even more like heaven. There was so much to do. There was so much to be. There still is. Can you guess what I’m talking about? Have you been there? Of course you have. And you’ll come back. You won’t be able to help yourself. Once you’ve been to this wonderful place, Buck’s Rock, you’re a part of it. And it’s a part of you. You’ll see. The End… or the beginning.”
First Year Camper – Peter Anderson
“When I first heard of Buck’s Rock, I thought it was just another loving, sing around the fire kind of camp. Boy, was I wrong! Buck’s Rock is more than just a camp, it’s a place where you don’t have to worry about anything: the clothes you wear, being the best athlete, actor, singer etc… When I auditioned for one of the plays, I was really nervous, but during my audition I met new friends who auditioned with me and when we messed up we would laugh about it afterwards. Buck’s Rock is not just another camp, it’s a place where you can make great friends and have a lot of fun.”
Cool Summer Breeze – Unknown Author
“I came to this camp a socially lost person, an uptight person, a perfectionist to the point that I would try no activity in which I could not achieved what I thought was an acceptable standard. And through these few weeks I found many parts of myself.
I found the more confident person who would hold molten glass on the end of a pole. And I found someone who would do something even more frightening – make friends and try to forget the idea that they would one day reject me, or hurt me. The people I met here were ones to whom I completely entrust my psyche. There is not a single person here who has ever hurt me, and this is the only place I have ever been about which I can say that. My friends and counselors here are some of the most interesting, talented, funny, decent people I have ever met.
I have tried so many things. I have tried things that didn’t come out perfectly, and for the first time since I can remember, I am just as proud of the bowl that is slightly lopsided and the batik with a few wax drops as I am of the things that are just so, just “perfect.”
In this place I found peace and resolution with myself. I began to truly believe that I am special in some areas where I never received enough direction from people I trusted to tell me the truth. But more importantly, I can now do something where no one will ever tell me I am “the best” or “so talented,” and that this is all right. Thank you, Buck’s Rock, for the cool summer breeze that will always blow over me.
Thank you for helping me give myself the best gift I ever got.”
Thoughts after a Visit to Buck’s Rock Alexandra Huber-Weiss
“When I walk onto the Buck’s Rock campus, it is as if I am coming home after a long and painful hiatus. The sights and sounds of the camp are so familiar to me now that I am surprised when I come back that I have survived without them for so long. Five years and only one month each year does not seem like a long time to get to know a place. But those five years have been my developing years, and Buck’s Rock has had a lot to do with that. It is because of the influence Buck’s Rock has had upon my growth that it is so engrained into my psyche. I would never have gained the independence I have today had it not been for Buck’s Rock. I would never have nurtured the passion I have for art today, and passion that has led me to want to study art in college and possibly beyond. I would never have had the opportunity to learn weaving or batik, two unusual areas of art, and the two that have become my favorite.
Weaving is an art for the patient and controlled. I learned this in my first year, when my loom got completely messed up, and a counselor at the weaving shop spent an entire night up to fix it. It took so much work, really hard work, but when I had finished (with a significant amount of help from the instructor), I was so proud of the product I had produced I could barely contain my joy. That feeling of elation was something I have never been able to recreate in any other area of my life. I love the feeling of taking a work of art off of a loom, finishing the last few minute details, and sitting back and looking at the creation I have toiled over. I loved that experience so much that I saved up enough money to buy my own loom, on which I can now recreate that feeling of joy whenever I want to. I want to pass on that joy to others. It is a great accomplishment to finish a piece of weaving, and every person patient enough to do it deserves to reach their fullest potential. When I was a CIT in the weaving shop, the feeling of elation didn’t just come when I had finished my own projects anymore; I also felt it after having watched and helped someone finish their own masterpiece. I want to be able to do that for many more campers, and watch their faces light up with the same pride I felt after my first weaving project.
Like weaving, batik is an art that requires multiple visits and lots of time. It is an art I have only recently grown to love. I have been drawing and painting for most of my life, but haven’t found a way to really tie that into my love of the fabric arts. Batik is my way to do that. It is a free form of art, which allows you to draw freely, and then make fabrics. I love watching the piece take form, as each layer of color is added onto it, and it begins to make sense. I have worked very hard in the batik shop, even helping create the batiks for the 90s tribute last year. I would love to contribute to the free-spirited and fun atmosphere that is present in the batik shop, the atmosphere that allows campers to come and relax, and in the meantime create a piece of work they are proud of. The excitement is palpable when the dry cleaning comes back, and ten campers crowd the cabinet, eager to show off their work. I want to help to create that anticipation, that love of art, that pride in one’s own work. It is a feeling I think everyone should experience in their lifetimes. Buck’s Rock certainly helped my find it, and now, I want to help others do the same.
I would go back to Buck’s Rock for the simple reason that it is Buck’s Rock. I love the atmosphere and overall feel of the place. I feel more at home there than I do in many other places I’ve been, including my home school. I’d love to participate again in the nurturing, open community that is there, where no one judges anyone else. I’d love to contribute to the community, so that camper’s works are displayed and praised, and they begin to feel their own self-confidence rising as they enter their rocky teenage years. And I’d love to help nurture a love of learning and hard work, that eventually produces a summer of art and experiences that will last a lifetime. Buck’s Rock has nurtured these qualities in me, and I’d love to be able to do that for others.”