YMCA Camp Kitaki

Leave Home, Find Home

Leave Home, Find Home

This morning as I was driving my five year old daughter to school, Hattie brought up one of her favorite subjects: Camp. Specifically, she asked if we could spend the whole summer at Kitaki, to which I explained that yes, just like every year since before she was born, we will be spending the whole summer at camp. She gave a brief cheer, talked about a few of the things she was most looking forward to (in particular she desperately wants to stay for “the whole campfire, even the very end part when I am usually too tired because I am not as old as the other kids.”). Then she said “Mom, I don’t know if I want to go to another camp.”

Now this is not coming out of the blue. For a few years now I have been prepping Hattie for the time when she will go away to summer camp. Camp is my career after all, so the fact that she would go to camp was pretty much a given. However, sending her away to summer camp is a bit trickier for us.

Of course Hattie will attend Kitaki when she turns seven. To say that she can’t wait is an understatement…she talks about it constantly. With utmost humility I will tell you that I think Kitaki is one of the best camps in the country and I will be thrilled when she gets to fully experience our programs and build even stronger relationships with the campers and with our staff, the phenomenal role models she has been so fortunate to grow up with all her life. When I talk with other parents about Kitaki, they often bring up how lucky I am to be able to send my kid to a place where I am 100% confident that she will be comfortable and have a positive experience. And I am, so incredibly lucky. But it is because she feels so at home here that I know Kitaki can’t be her only camp experience.  

Having seen the positive impact going away to camp has on the campers I have the pleasure to work with each summer, I know firsthand that kids grow and build resilience most when parents aren’t around. Kids need the opportunity to prove they can navigate the world without constant feedback from the safety net of their family, and when they are given the chance, even if they struggle at times with homesickness or navigating the rocky waters of new friendships, they come away with a sense of confidence in themselves and in their ability to achieve that is all the stronger because they are able to attribute that success solely to themselves. 

As a mom, I want to protect my child from any sort of hardship, but as a youth development professional I know that doing so robs her of the chance to learn to rely on herself instead of me. Whether we like it or not, our job as parents is prepare our kids to leave us and go off into the world, and going away to camp is a great opportunity for a practice run when the stakes are low and the level of support is high.

Do I worry Hattie will miss home? No, because I know she will. She has two extremely loving parents and a great life; of course she will. My hope is not that she doesn’t get homesick, but that in feeling homesick but working through it she starts to believe what her dad and I tell her everyday: “You can do anything you put your mind to, if you just work at it.” And if in finding evidence of this truth, she needs help from an empathetic and caring counselor or a new camp friend, so much the better.  I want her to have the widest network of support possible by the time she moves out, and if camp helps her learn how to get that support I cannot think of a greater gift. 

Kitaki will always be Hattie’s home, even if I move on to another career down the line. When she said she didn’t want to go to another camp, we talked about how much I want her to get to experience surprises and meet new people, and about what her goals would be at a new camp. She agreed that it sounded like a good idea. But she also wanted reassurance that she’d get to attend Kitaki as well. I am so glad we will be able to give Hattie the chance to go off into the world and find herself, but I will admit I am also so glad that she loves Kitaki as much as I do. And I am thankful for the opportunity to raise her in such a loving, welcoming place, a place she will always think of as her second home, just like so many other campers do. 

Natalie "Nat" Roberts-Day
Associate Executive Director - YMCA Camp Kitaki

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