Today is a day I’ve been anticipating for months. This morning, Sara and I will load a car with sleeping bags and towels and overstuffed suitcases and we, along with two other friends from our summer camp days, will head up to Maine.
It’s the alumnae celebration of camp’s 100 year anniversary. My first summer at Tripp Lake came to a close almost exactly 20 years ago today. I was 8, it was 1990, and my parents had shipped me off eight weeks prior for the first of the nine seasons I would spend there as a camper. (That’s not entirely true. The “shipping off” part, I mean. I begged to go. After seeing how much fun my brother had at his camp I just had to try it.)
If I were forced to pinpoint one occurrence in my childhood that has led to my perhaps unreasonably high expectations of friends, camp would be it.
I grew up going to coed schools. When my mother suggested I attend the all-girl’s academy where she taught I shuddered at the thought. But camp was all girls, and I loved it. I was the one in my age group who got made fun of for worshiping camp so much. (I am not exaggerating. Any ex-camper reading this can attest to the making fun. And yes, I used the word “worship” back then, which now seems a tad melodramatic. But I probably was.)
In retrospect, what I adored about summer camp was how easy everything felt. It wasn’t about boys or clothes or anything other than singing songs (lots and lots of songs) and being with friends. You could just, as Matt might say, “do you.” At least, that’s my memory. Another former camper might tell a different tale.
When you live with other girls for two months, you get pretty comfortable with them. They get to know every part of you– the good, the bad, the crazy– and either they love you for it or they don’t. I mean, it was a girl’s summer camp not a hippie peacefest. There were plenty of fights. But once someone’s seen you have a meltdown because you had last choice signups, your esteem can only go up in their eyes.
For nine summers I lived with approximately six other girls, and each year they became like sisters. Bonding time was never turned off and I got spoiled. My friends were the cream of the crop. And now, 20 years later, I’m wandering the streets of Chicago looking for the same thing.
It’s not a fair request. The level of intimacy that builds between friends in the camp environment has remained unrivaled anywhere else in my life. Hence, why–despite loving it–camp might have screwed with my head: I’m looking for camp-like friendships in a severely un-campy space.
Is there anything or anyone who set your friendship expectations very, if not too, high? Were you a summer camper? Do you think some people’s adoration of camp is just plain creepy?
10 responses to “A Happy Camper”
I was always terrified of camp. All of those girls under one roof? Terrifying to me. I’m glad you have such great memories of it, though!
i agree in that some of my best friends were made at camp. you don’t really distinguish between overnight camp and day camp. do you think there is a difference?
Matt is wise, being able to “do you” is exactly right. The acceptance and encouragement of that expression of authenticity, at a moment in life when so little was accepted elsewhere, by peers (and adults) seems the recipe for creating high expectations.
Don’t laugh, but did your girls camp ever have socials with Camp Wigwam (a boys camp)? If so, our lives have come very close to overlapping … before either of us ever moved to Chicago.
I didn’t go to camp, but I did go to one of those all-girl academies for high school and I loved it for the same reason that you loved camp so much. Without worrying about boys or clothes (we had uniforms, which I actually miss now that I’m a grown-up and have to plan out my outfits every day) we could focus on our studies (of course) and being friends with each other. The nuns that taught at my school were so supportive of the idea that we treat each other like sisters and avoid all of the cattiness that seems to come with so many female friendships.
So, like you, I have similarly high expectations of my female friends. But I wouldn’t lower your expectations too much – there are plenty of former campers and all-girl school graduates out there who have the same expectations of their friends, and hopefully you’re getting closer to finding one of them.
First of all Tripp Lake Camp is half an hour from my parents’ house and it made me smile when you mentioned it.
Second of all I am a fellow camp worshiper. I’m pretty sure that people got sick of me saying “When I was at camp…” all through the fall (it got less and less talked about through the winter and spring). I went to co-ed camp but I definitely felt the camaraderie that you did. The girls in the cabin were thick as thieves and it was fun to whisper about the different boys and who liked who. I worked at the same camp for 2 years after I was too old to be a camper and I loved that too. It was like taking a break from real life.
I feel as though my college roommates set the bar too high. Randomly assigned freshman year, we stayed together the next four. Since then I have moved several states away and , of course, have yet to find that level of intimacy that grows from years of living together.
Camp truly made me who I am today. I am so certain I would not be the person I am today without having the experience and the friendships. And you’re right, my friends too are the cream of the crop. Wish I were there with you today…
Hi from San Francisco,
I just talked to my BFF (long distanced of course) about how to turn down a sort-of friend’s request of crashing on my couch for a week. We both talked about how much we hated living with other girls in college, but as we looked back, we(she and I) did lots of sleepovers when we were in high school.
Are human relationships amazing?
You are right! After 2 months of staying together, you either hate the girl or you don’t.
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