Summer Kamp and the Livin’ is Easy

I love how my life is punctuated by particular events occuring at the same time every year. There are the obvious holidays, birthdays–and of course the Austin City Music Festival–all fun and much anticipated. For my daughter Maeve, none of these days which mark the “round of the seasons” seem as special as the first day of KAMP at Kickapoo, in Kerrville, Texas. Indeed, just yesterday, we were sitting in the long line of cars leading into the picturesque setting that is Kickapoo Kamp, waiting to drop off her trunk and other bags, when Maeve remarked, “Here we are again!” On this first day of camp, her fourth term at Kickapoo, she went on to share her feelings of anticipation, nervousness, excitement, curiosity. Blessed by cloud-cover and a cool breeze, I smiled as I sat with her in the car and listened, and wondered right along with her which friends would be back, what cabin she would be in (marveling that each year she seems to skip the logical “next cabin”!), who her counselors would be.

When at last our car rolled under the large oak trees near the “Band-Aid” nurse’s station, Maeve learned where she would be living for the next two weeks. She then bounded out of the car and up the hill towards her cabin, meeting several old friends along the way, one of whom, is a “Pawnee” and a fellow vegetarian. I saw Myrtle, the ubiquitious and kindly “keeper of Kampers”, delighted that she returns year after year to participate in the growing of our blessed girls. Laura and Bimmie were in their usual office stations, calm, welcoming and unfazed by scattered parents like me who typically forget some important form to be filled out.

We unloaded Maeve’s stuff in Cabin #3, learned that her counselor Nicole from last year had not only returned to Kickapoo, but would be her counselor this year as well!

It took only an hour to get settled, at which point Maeve hopped down from her top bunk bed, hugged me and said “bye!” A few years ago I might have been taken aback by such an abrupt, seemingly emotionless farewell. However, It was clear that it was time for me to go, and allow my daughter space to make the transition to her camp home. As I made my way back to the car, I didn’t feel sad, I didn’t feel worried, and I didn’t feel teary-eyed like I have in past years. I felt joy and pride at having a daughter so secure with herself–and with her surroundings–that she could part with me in such a simple, lovely way.

Kickapoo Kamp. Certainly not as fancy as some of the Hill Country girls’ camps on the Guadalupe. Indeed, it is downright rustic. Cabins are not air-conditioned, and the somewhat primitive accomodations would seem crowded to the spoiled among us. A few spiders and ants are surely my daughters’ cabin companions, and I wonder how she is going to do her increasingly complicated bathing rituals in a bathroom shared by 8 other girls and two counselors! The food staff do not cater to vegetarians like Maeve, and there aren’t that many places to go if it rains. Oh and those rugged, sharp steps she skips down and up a hundred times each day, coming and going to her various activities. I can’t imagine her navigating them successfully in the dark, flashlight or not!

But the camradarie. The fierce protectiveness of the staff–their absolute confidence in the girls and their ability to thrive away from home, while learning something important about themselves and each other in the process. The loving kindness of Myrtle, the patience and smiles of Teri the nurse, the lively counselors and Kampers who return year after year in this rustic haven. The fun-loving family who own Kickapoo, who LIVE Kickapoo–All of this–and the ineffible “something special” of the place–create two of the best weeks of my daughters’ year.

Last Summer, a parent of one of Maeve’s Kamper friends remarked, “Kickapoo is like the camp that the twins in the (original) movie ” The Parent-Trap” attended. It is good, clean, old-fashioned fun!” I might have paraphrased his remark a bit in the relating of it here, but the gist of it seemed to be, and I agree, that in such a slick, fast-paced world of modern conveniences, it is refreshing to offer our children a healthy alternative: a rustic retreat. Life without air-conditioning? Heck yeah! No internet, t.v., cell phones, video games? Yup. Kickapoo provides a positive “time-out” for girls to reconnect with themselves, with their humanity, their instincts and passions, and with each other.

Without the numbing distractions and questionable pressures of modern life, girls can be, well, girls.

I have done a bit of research on girls camps in Texas. Some look really lovely and sophisticated, boasting of air-conditioned cabins and gourmet food. One camp website showed a picture of young women clad in white, diaphanous dresses. Others , alternatively, look funky and down to earth, offering ropes courses and rock-climbing classes. I took a moment to reflect on our decision to send Maeve to Kickapoo (sight unseen her first year!) and wondered if we had taken the time to explore the other options more fully, would she have chosen Kickapoo? It is really a moot question, irrelevant in my daughters’ eyes. She is most unabashadly “kickapoo for life,” a proud Cherokee who is hopeful about becoming a Pawnee–and perhaps even a counselor some day. There is no question in her mind (nor in ours, after three amazing terms) that Kickapoo is her rightful place in the Summertime scheme of things.

Maeve did have one complaint this year about going to camp, and that was simply, “I want to stay at Kickapoo longer.”

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