By Wendy Siegel
Being a parent is stressful. You have to figure out how to balance school, carpools, sports, extracurricular activities, doctor visits and emotions. It gets exponentially more difficult as you realize that you must also feed your kids three meals a day, send signed permission slips back to teachers on time and keep at least one pair of socks without holes in each child’s drawers for when your in-laws come over for dinner.
Just when you think you couldn’t possibly take on more, you make the decision to sign up your son or daughter for sleepaway camp. Lo and behold, that “more” takes on a life of its own: the shopping, the labeling, the packing, the organizing, the friend-making. And that’s the easy part.
Because…wait…do you hear that buzz? Of course you do. And there it is again. And again. You don’t even have to look at your phone to know what’s lighting it up at an average rate of 42 buzzes per minute. Quite obviously, it’s texts from the other 26 moms in your “Camp Mom Group Chat.” There goes another buzz.
MOM 1: OMG the camp buses leave in 82 days!! I still haven’t gotten Jenna’s toiletries.
MOM 2: I’m freaking out. I got Sadie’s toiletries but I can’t find the camp sweatshirt that she saw on Instagram—and I’ve called every store in Philly, NYC, NJ and Florida!
MOM 3: Wait—did you guys get three 160-oz bottles of shampoo or only two? Do people bring up more on Visiting Day?
MOM 4: That reminds me I have Visiting Day questions!! How long can they keep the food we bring them? My daughter already asked for her favorite sandwich from Dugan’s!
MOM 5: So funny! I love Dugan’s! Do you want to meet there one day for lunch and we can go over the packing list?
MOM 1: Wait—what’s Dugan’s? I want to come. Can we pick a date?
MOM 3: Anyone know about bug spray? Does camp supply it or do we need to send it? Do you know if they check for ticks? I totally forgot to ask when I called the office last week to ask about floor mats.
MOM 5: They do check for ticks. I asked on my tour last year. Should we send floor mats? Oh and what kind of water bottles are you sending—plastic or aluminum?
MOM 2: Still looking for that sweatshirt posted on “Kool Kamp Klothes 4 U” in case anyone sees it!
Sound familiar? If you’re a first-time sleepaway camp parent, then I know it does. This seemingly odd and disjointed exchange is real. And I’m positive that it’s this conversation—and hundreds of chats just like it—that are the true origin of your stress as a sleepaway camp parent. It may also be the third job you had to take in order to pay for your child’s camp experience that’s keeping you up at night, but we’ll hit that topic another time.
I feel for you. I’ve been there, too—on group chats for my daughters’ sports teams, school trips and 20-person birthday gifts for friends. I know that it’s really hard not to get sucked into each and every conversation. It’s hard not to look at your buzzing phone, even though you’re riding your Peloton or at a job interview or in parent-teacher conferences or at dinner for your in-laws’ anniversary or getting a tooth filled at the dentist.
You’re not alone if you cringe every time another camp mom asks a question or reports on another pre-camp “must-have” purchase. But you’re also not alone if you read each text and wonder if you’re doing enough to prepare your child for the upcoming summer. Because even though the founder of your “Mom Group Text” meant the chat to be both helpful and connective, it often leads you to feel extremely anxious and possibly even to break out in hives on the daily. The power of 25 or more moms chiming in on everything from Q-tips to stamps to Epi-Pens to flashlights can be overwhelming for even the most Zen-like parents out there.
It’s stressful when other moms raise issues that never would have concerned you (bubble gum vs. mint toothpaste?), and you find yourself awake in the middle of the night focused solely on that topic (4am decision: send both flavors). You probably make a daily vow to your spouse or best friend or neighbor or the cashier at Target that you’re removing yourself from the group chat that has taken over your life and disrupted your ability to function normally. But you know that will never happen. You won’t be able to press that button.
Because what if you miss something? What if you don’t see the announcement of a pre-camp Cold Stone Creamery “meet-up”? What if your daughter shows up at camp with not enough stationery or too few hair ties—all because you took yourself out of the group chat? You’d never forgive yourself. So instead, you’ll continue to diligently dissect every last message because you won’t want to miss a single thing.
I wish there was a way to disable all camp-related group chats. I wish we could rewind 25 years to the days when new camp moms had to rely solely on their own moms for packing advice.
My one piece of advice for all of you group chat “prisoners” is to stay true to who you are. Don’t send four brushes, two combs and a bottle of hair gel simply because everyone else is doing just that (especially if your son is coming to camp with a buzz cut). And don’t pack the mega-pack of Costco Band-Aids in case your daughter gets a paper cut opening one of the hundreds of letters you’ve already started writing. And…please…do your best not to create angst for everyone else in your group chat. Reserve your own anxiety for your spouse or your best friend. Or for the cashier at Target.
And now, just for fun, I’ll lay the groundwork for what lies ahead. If you think your camp group chats have already taken over your life…just WAIT until the buses pull away on Opening Day.
MOM 1: Did we REALLY just send them away for seven weeks? I can’t stop crying.
MOM 2: My husband is crying, too! I didn’t even know he knew how.
MOM 3: When do they tell us what bunk they’re in? Will they e-mail us when the buses get there? How long do you think until we get our first letters? I’M FREAKING!
MOM 1: My sunglasses are fogging up. The guy at Starbucks thinks there’s something seriously wrong with me.
MOM 5: My sister’s friend’s plumber’s cousin’s teacher works at camp. I’m getting her number so I can text her to see how it’s going. I’ll keep you all posted!
MOM 4: Is it raining up there? Anabelle’s raincoat is in her duffel. She’s going to get soaked. Anyone know what they do with wet clothes when it rains
On the bright side, you should know that there is a light at the end of this tunnel. By the time your camper is in his or her third or fourth summer, your group chat will look like this:
MOM 1: Does anyone have an extra duffel they’re not using?
MOM 2: Can someone tell me when camp starts?
MOM 3: Not soon enough.
MOM 4: I’ll check the website.
MOM 5: God I wish it was tomorrow.
MOM 6: See you on Visiting Day.
MOM 7: Wait—when’s Visiting Day?
Wendy Siegel is an owner and full-time director of Tyler Hill Camp, a co-ed traditional sleepaway camp in the Pocono Mountains. She is the mother of three teenage daughters, and is a graduate of the University of Michigan School of Education and the Wurzweiler School of Social Work.
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