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July 8, 2014 By:
It's Never Too Late to Make Camp Memories
If you’re one of the 9 million moms or dads sending your kids off to camp for another best summer of their lives, waste no time weeping. They are not only fine, they’re learning life skills you could never teach them. And the friends they’re making will likely be the ones by their side as they traverse the ups and downs of their unfolding lives.
There are no friends like camp friends. Anywhere.
It’s been 40 years since I boarded the bus to leave Camp Akiba in the picturesque Poconos for the last time, crying. I still think about it as the day I left my happiest place on earth.
For two solid months every summer back in the ’70s, I attended camp with friends who actually talked to and learned from each other, sharing real life experiences: the awkwardness of our changing bodies, first boyfriends, learning tolerance and how to become gracious winners — and losers.
At camp, we resolved conflict with others and inside ourselves. We could be whomever we wanted to be, without our parents constantly reminding us of who they thought we should be or fighting our battles for us.
My camp memories have carved out a place in my heart that no other life experiences can touch. And that is why I chucked a successful, 34-year, Emmy award-winning career as a television producer to take grown women to experience the joy of camp on our own terms.
Last year, I created Campowerment, a weekend camp for adults to disconnect from their everyday lives so that they could reconnect with themselves and a sisterhood of women also struggling to juggle all that life throws at us. The goal is to help our stressed-out grown-up selves turn back the clock to recreate some of the fun of our youth.
If you’re a camper from way back, you get it. And even if you never partook of the camp experience, you’re never too old to drink the bug juice — especially when it’s spiked. No, camp is not just for kids anymore.
I modeled these weekend retreats after my Camp Akiba experiences because my life was going too fast, and everyone I tried to connect with was too overwhelmed to stop their crazy busy lives to talk about how to stop living such crazy busy lives. I kept asking myself, what would it take to start enjoying life as we did back in the day?
Before long, I quit my job at Warner Brothers in Los Angeles and entered the camp business, renting out campsites in the off-season for three-and-a-half days of empowering workshops and color war and pie-eating contests; songs and s’mores around the campfire; canoe races and yoga and workout classes; and all the other fun stuff we never make time for anymore.
In the old days, candy was a no-no at camp. Now, it’s the cell phones and computers we try to keep out.
Through social media, I have reconnected with camp friends I had not seen in decades. In May, we had a mini-reunion in Villanova. Six Camp Akibaites gathered at Shelly Lotman Fisher’s house until 2 a.m. (on a school night!), reliving the joy of sharing our adolescence together and laughing until our bellies hurt. We talked about how authentic our lives had been at camp and how we passed that camp love on to all our kids. Karen Roth Cohen texted us all in the morning to say she wore her exhaustion that day as a badge of honor. That is what camp did to us then and still does for us now.
At Campowerment, we sleep in bunk beds and open our hearts to each other in ways we have not done in what feels like forever. We play and support each other like we did as kids. We laugh and cry and recreate the joy we didn’t even realize we missed over the past four decades while taking care of business and kids and mortgages and aging parents. We listen to each other’s stories of heartache and grief, inspiration and hope. And every single time, we go home recharged, just like when we were kids.
So write your kids an email today, or better yet, a handwritten note sent by snail mail, and remind them of the memories they are making. Stop stalking their pics on Bunk1.com. Let them have their fun. And remember, it’s never too late to go make your own.
Tammi Leader Fuller is the CEO of Campowerment, which will return to the Northeast next spring with a retreat in the Catskills, about 90 minutes from Philadelphia. There will also be a free “mini camp” session this Friday in Margate, N.J.