My 13 year old daughter is leaving for a school camping trip soon. It's been the talk of her grade all year and she and her friends can hardly wait to go. They're allowed no phones and I think the break from technology will be good for them. Kids these days should have to "rough it" sometimes – they live in a world that just one generation ago had few microwaves, used rotary dial telephones and a little plastic thing we jammed inside of a "record" to make it fit on the player. (If you were born after 1988, I've lost you, haven't I?)
The middle school camping trip is a tradition where we live – she's in Grade 7, although when my school made the journey I was in Grade 6 and only ten years old. Sometime in January she brought home the camp permission forms. Actually, it was more like a booklet. This involved more liability waivers than an unsanctioned space flight involving organ transplants. There were detailed lists of what to pack, and it seemed pretty comprehensive. But then I noticed that a few things were missing; things that I remember taking, like plates and cutlery and a TENT.
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I have a pretty good memory, and I recall my own camp permission form looking something like this:
"Can your kid go to camp? Check YES or NO. If yes, pack some camp stuff. See you in a week."
I read further in the forms. They're only going for three nights, will sleep comfortably in climate controlled cabins, and all meals are served in a dining hall. There are showers and flush toilets, and iPods are permitted. So far she's packed nail polish and money to spend at the souvenir gift shop.
I explained to her that this was not actually camping; this is a vacation. In fact, the description of the location and facilities sound a lot nicer than our normal living arrangements. If I find out they offer laundry service, I'm going.
I'm happy for her and have encouraged her to go and have fun. It'll be a great experience, albeit a cushy one, but she's worked hard all year and she deserves it. But I can't help but compare it to my own time at camp. We went orienteering and rock climbing, lit fires and got eaten alive by mosquitoes and black flies. We scratched ourselves raw in the damp confines of musty canvas dens, and I'm pretty sure a kid was eaten by a bear. Can she get the same awesome experience at a campground with nightly turn-down service?
I hope the powers-that-be on this trip aren't so concerned with rules and policy that some of the old- time gritty stuff is eliminated. For instance, her entire class was required to take a swim test, wherein they swam two lengths of the pool, fully clothed. On our camping trip they asked "Can you swim?" and then regardless of your answer forced a puffy orange life jacket over your head that smelled like dead clams and diesel fuel and was scarred with cigarette burns.
When we trudged off to camp back in June of '83, we were crammed like sardines into an old yellow school bus. We travelled in a cloud of pubescent armpit scent for four hours down the hot highway until we got to the camp ground. My daughter and her classmates are going in an air conditioned tour bus, travelling like Aerosmith but hopefully with sober chaperones. Once at camp we slept in tents that we set up (in the rain), ate meals we prepared ourselves, and washed our dishes afterwards. A friend forgot to pack her dish set and spent the week eating with her hands out of a Frisbee. I bet she's never forgotten another thing in her life since.
My daughter will sleep in a cabin with seven of her closest friends. In our day (did I just say that? GET OFF MY LAWN!), our teachers went to the staff room for a smoke break and pulled names from a hat and we lived with the resulting arrangements. Unfortunately for me, I got paired with a girl whose cousin knew a guy who knew a guy who was a police officer and so had access to crime scene stories the calibre of which would make your hair curl. To this day the smell of sleeping bags and Cheetos makes me think of hook-handed vagrants with a penchant for slaughtering teen couples out on romantic country road drives.
My daughter says she's looking forward to developing some "survival skills" in the wilds of northern Ontario. And she'll have the painted toenails and $25 tee shirt to prove it.
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