For me, that is. After merrily helping him pack (he started days before he needed to) and cheerfully discussing all the fun he was going to have, I suddenly realized that I was going to miss him. Horribly. That he was going away, and that this was just the first time, and from now on it would just be one leave-taking after another…
O.k., so there were some tears — on both sides. And I spent the whole morning before he left turning over ways to stay in touch — why did I ever think an 11-year-old didn’t need a cellphone? (Because he doesn’t, of course. It was just a moment.) Once I did drop him off — both of us, as previously agreed, playing it cool with a fast hug and no talking, lest those tears slip out in front of his friends — I knew immediately that I would go with the tried and true method of staying in touch with a child at camp: the care package. (Because I wasn’t serious about the cellphone.)
Know, of course, that this care package was not really for my son. He’s only going to be gone a week. He’s an hour away, at a hockey camp run by people we know from past hockey day camps, with a friend of ours and fellow parent on staff. If he needed anything, someone would let us know, or get it for him.
No, this care package is for me. To let me think about the child I’ve rarely been parted from in more than a decade, and feel our connection — which I know he’ll soon need less than I do — while he’s gone. To let me imagine that he is thinking about me. So with that in mind, I set out to send him a package that combined comforts of home with fun for camp:
1. Read the rules. Jan Hoffman, who wrote “At Camp, It’s Not Grub, It’s Cuisine,” for the Dining section (making us all want to head for camp), reminded me to check with the camp before I sent a thing. “Most camps I spoke with have banned food in packages,” she said. Packages are usually opened at the camp office, in front of the camper. Some camps have even banned packages altogether, except for necessities. “Directors are worried that if some children get toys from home and others don’t, the kids who don’t get packages will feel hurt and left out.” Luckily, hockey camp (in keeping with the sport) has no such rules. It’s a care package free-for-all.
2. Ask around. What did kids from your child’s camp crave last year? Playing cards, said one fellow parent. Snacks, said another. Glow sticks. Books. (An exception to the “no care packages” rule at some camps.) Graphic novels get passed around, said Ayun Halliday, from the camp where she is working this summer — and “the kid with the battery-operated fan will always be the object of admiration.” Practical jokes, Noise Putty, comic books.
3. Send love and flavor. In our case, younger siblings contributed some art to brighten their brother’s surroundings. Rice Krispies Treats are a house classic (with the added advantage of being nut-and-gluten-free and thus shareable with nearly any friend), and I managed to send him almost a whole batch (I had to be sure they were good, right?). And a packet of powdered Starbucks iced coffee is one thing that’s sure to remind him of his loving, slightly iced-coffee-addicted, mother.
4. Think group fun and solo time. To me, that meant cards and Mad Libs, plus a book of puzzles. “Something that can be shared with everyone,” said Ms. Halliday. Several friends, via Facebook, combined the glow theme with sharing: glow-in-the-dark-bracelets in a party pack; a glow-in-the-dark Frisbee.
5. Sweat the details. I wished I’d taken more time to write my note, instead of scribbling it at the post office: do I have no words of wisdom for my eldest on his first extended stay away from home? Maybe my husband covered it. But at least I remembered that puzzles and Mad Libs are useless without pencils. You could also mail something creative to get at mail call, like a plastic bottle filled with notes and small things, or, as another parent did, the Frisbee itself (“just slapped on the address and some postage”).
But if you are hemmed in by a no-care-packages policy, send letters, send origami swans, send a goofy drawing, send a big crayon heart, and embrace a moment away from consumer culture. A camp counselor friend, back on Facebook for a day during a no-electronics-summer because of a root canal appointment, told me that her camp banned the care packages because they were “getting out of hand.” Loving parents like me apparently couldn’t contain our urge to tug our campers back into our world, and the children whose parents were better at letting go were begging for presents from home. “Camp is a great time to stop focusing on the outside world and all its stuff and rather focus on authentic fun and face-to-face friendships.”
I probably went a little overboard with this, my first-ever care package from home. I’m new at this business of separating from my children, and I did forget, just a little, that the notes (and the Rice Krispies Treats) are all I really wanted to send — when what I really want, of course, is to send him the ability to miss us, and love us, and still enjoy every minute of his time away. That’s one of the lessons of camp that I can’t put in a box (whether it’s hockey camp in a dorm or lanyards-and-canoes on the lake): it’s possible to hold those two feelings at once, to take care of yourself, and still welcome your care package.
What’s in your care packages this summer, and what’s the best thing anyone ever sent you as a child when you went away?