Summer Camp Mishaps by a Long Island Dad and Author
I’m a teacher, author, and father, but when it comes to summer I’m all child! Long days at the beach and warm August nights when the bugs are at their loudest fill me with a pleasure that the rest of the year can’t come close to matching. Summer memories are my favorites, and even in those first chilly days of spring I’m already anticipating the mid-summer memories to come.
My wife is a bit more practical. She knows that spring is a time to plan for school’s end. Soon, the familiar routine of sports and other activities will be put on hold. She toils with the same question being pondered by most parents: What am I going to do with the kids all summer? It’s at this point that Google and the words “summer camp” become fast friends.
Faced with the camp decision for my own children, I have a better appreciation for what my parents decided years ago. Although I still believe they may have gone overboard—surely I didn’t need to be shipped three states away!—I understand why they sent me.
Surviving the First Summer Camp Experience
Ah, those first days at sleep away camp. Seems like only yesterday I was busy plotting my escape. For weeks my parents had littered the dining room table with fancy brochures of smiling kids busy making rockets, sailing, canoeing, playing soccer. Some were even water-skiing. I thought I was heading off to paradise but it only took a few days to understand that sleep away camp wasn’t all fun in the sun.
Soon my body was covered with mosquito bites and poison ivy bumps. The bathroom smelled. I had bunk-mates with questionable hygiene habits. I yearned for my mom’s cooking. After serving for the first time as KP (kitchen patrol a.k.a. busboy) and separating dozens of greasy knives and forks, I remember grumbling that they didn’t show any of this in the brochures. I grew leaner and dirtier with each passing week. My departure from camp couldn’t come quick enough.
The Next Three Years
Strangely, the following spring I found that I’d forgotten the dirty forks and itches. I had spent the winter remembering the fun games, fires at dusk, the songs during dinner, and hikes through the woods to the archery range and canoes. I missed the jokes we told in our bunks at night. I wanted to go back.
I went to camp for four years, and with each year that has passed since then I appreciate my camp experiences more and more. I can still picture the faces of my friends and the older counselors. I still know every path in the woods and which shower had the best water pressure. I remember the first girl I danced with.
It’s all there. Sometimes I wish I could go back one more time. I guess that’s why I set my middle-grade novel, The Call of the Bully, at sleep away camp. Being far from home for the first time was perfect for the book’s less-than-brave main character. I knew it would provide him and young readers with plenty of fun plot elements. Just as important, I knew that writing it would allow me to revisit memories from four of the happiest summers of my life.
Soon I will be shipping my own three kids off to the world of mosquitoes, marshmallows, and mediocre food. And while my wife and I reconnect over a quiet dinner together, I can enjoy it guilt free. After all, I know that my kids are forging their own summer camp memories—even if they’re too busy separating knives and forks to realize it.
Scott Starkey is an elementary school teacher in Hicksville, NY on Long Island. He is the author of How to Beat the Bully Without Really Trying and its sequel, The Call of the Bully. Simon & Schuster will publish his third novel, Revenge of the Bully, in 2014. More information on Scott is available by visiting: ScottStarkeyBooks.com.