Monday, June 22, 2009

Douglas Ranch Camp


Today was my son's first day of summer camp 2009. When I asked him how it went, on a scale of 1-10, he was quick to give it a ten. He talked about swimming and how he can put his whole head underwater for "ten minutes" ("You mean seconds?" "Yeah, seconds."); he mentioned kickball and an art project and making a new friend . . . all great to hear, especially described in an enthusiastic tone of voice. Camp, of course, can be a good or a bad experience. Last year, camp was not so great for my little guy. This year hopefully will be different. Meanwhile, I am reminded of my own summer experiences—most of them good, some not; many blogged about already. The hardest for me (and maybe the most memorable for this reason) was the summer sleep-away camp I attended one year when we were living in Los Angeles. This was probably 1982, maybe 1983. I should say that the camp is a traditional, family-operated camp with a long history, a great reputation, and lots of fabulous activities, and I really don't know why it didn't appeal to me. It seems now like it would be a kid's paradise. Perhaps my discomfort there had something to do with the other girls in my cabin, with whom I had a hard time bonding (despite some congenial poker games with M&Ms as stakes). Or else it was the threat of "pink eye" that was going around, along with the exaggerated, graphic rumors of what it was like to come down with it: I was told that your eyes got crusty overnight and you couldn't open them at all, so it was like being blind (!) with gunky, oozing eyes. Maybe I was just missing home too much; missing my parents and my usual, obsessive routine of dance, dance, dance—not campy "barn dancing" either, but ballet. Anyway, for whatever combination of reasons, I remember discussing with my parents whether I should come home sooner than originally planned. I believe, however, that I did stick it out for the two sessions I was registered for. The camp, because you must be wondering by now, was the Douglas Ranch Camp in Carmel Valley, CA. Douglas Camp is coed for kids ages 7-14, is located on 120 acres, and has a camper:staff ratio that would please any parent. The days, I remember, were very structured; maybe that was one of my complaints: I felt bullied into a specific routine, with mandatory participation in all activities regardless of interest level. The activities I remember most were swimming (because the pool was freezing and we had to pass tests and learn CPR), tennis (which I didn't want to do), crafts (which I loved, lanyards and all), and the two that were most unique to me at the time: archery and riflery. Archery I hated, because, frankly, I was not good at it. The bows were too big, the arrows too hard to pull back, and nothing ever hit the bull's-eye. The rifle range, however, proved interesting. I couldn't believe that I was shooting a real gun. I was fascinated by this, despite the fact that weapons of any kind generally held no interest for me; in fact, they have always repulsed me. Still, there I was, shooting from a prone position, feeling the kickback into my shoulder when I pulled the trigger and also being amazed to find that most of the time, I hit my target dead-on. (Mind you, I am now the mom with the "no guns" rule; we live in a different era, though!) The other thing I remember about Douglas Camp is something my parents also remember well: the fact that the camp was so strict about etiquette at mealtimes that I came home with impeccable table manners. As I said, the camp was family run, and the matriarch of the clan, who was probably in her seventies or eighties back then, used to rotate tables. She'd sit first at this one, then that, and the campers were all warned of her eagle eye and intolerance for elbows on tables or talking with mouths full or what-have-you. I remember my dad telling me that this aspect of my experience reminded him of his boyhood camp, where the instructions were to drop a serving dish full of food if the person you passed it to served himself without taking the dish from you first. I don't remember what kind of penalty system was in place to keep us all on our toes (with napkins in laps), but it was effective, whatever it was. So, camp was tough, but I got through it. I laugh about it now, especially because I think Douglas Camp is a camp my son would love—and of course at the time they selected it, my parents thought I would love it, too. But sometimes there's no accounting for taste, preference, experience. For now, I just remember a challenge I met; and I renew my wish for my son to have no challenges this summer . . . just a riotous good time.

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