As different as my husband and I are, we tend to agree readily on parenting issues. We committed to Ferberizing all three kids at a year, agreed that sticking it out on swim team would be a character-building experience, and saw eye-to-eye when it was time to pull the plug on piano lessons.
So I was expecting unwavering support when I mentioned that I wanted the kids to try sleep-away camp for a week. I got pushback.
There appear to be two types of parents in the world: those who see summer camp as a fabulous romp and those who just can't get the horror of Friday the 13th out of their heads.
Where I grew up, it wasn't a question of whether you were going to go to sleep-away camp, it was whether you'd go for four weeks or eight. It was always the second four-week session for my three siblings and me. I think my parents wanted to make sure we were sufficiently bored of summer by the time the bus pulled up to take us away.
I enjoyed every minute of my month away from home. I learned to canoe, ride a horse and make hospital corners. I drank bug juice and was the camp water-treading champion. I got to shoot a bow and arrow and even pulled the trigger on a gun twice - once for real on the rifle range and once in spirit during the camp production of Annie Get Your Gun.
But my husband wasn't sold. He was worried about a 17-year-old counselor being in charge of the kids' safety. He was also concerned about cost. But mostly he was worried about separation anxiety - namely, his own.
He's the kind of dad who doesn't relish being away on business for even one night. How would he handle the kids being gone for a whole week?
An all-family viewing of the original Parent Trap coupled with my legendary gifts of persuasion helped him come around. He agreed to let them try it if they wanted to - if they wanted to? Really?
I guess it never occurred to me that the kids might not be racing around the house searching for flashlights and sleeping bags upon my mention of this amazing opportunity. But the response I got, especially from my oldest, 13 at the time, was pretty lukewarm. He didn't want to sing around the campfire or swim in a lake. The idea of trading a week of World of Warcraft gaming for a week of Color Wars seemed to be a nonstarter. Desperate to find some way for him to discover the wonders of camp life, I set out to find something with appeal. If I could get him to cross over to my side, the other two were sure to follow suit.
So I furiously tried to find at least one camp experience that might interest him. When I stumbled upon information on the Concordia Language Villages in Northern Minnesota, I knew I'd found my place. The Concordia program touts itself as the premier culture and language immersion camp in the U.S., and while my son had never wanted to spend a minute in the north woods, he'd always wanted to go abroad - with or without me.
A little negotiation on which program he'd attend, and it was decided. Both my 13-year-old and his 10-year-old brother would spend a week in July in the pseudo old country - Italy, to be exact. Italian Camp was a compromise. The kids wanted exotic, like Urdu. I wanted practical, like Spanish. Italian finally won out because, let's be honest, who could resist a week of spaghetti, garlic bread and gelato? Case closed. Due to timing issues, my 8-year-old daughter couldn't attend the same week and ended up going to German Camp a few weeks later.
I think it was a week of an empty nest that I had really wanted, so my husband and I didn't really benefit from the full parental camp experience.
But for the kids it was awesome. My middle child loved every second and called his brother by his Italian name, Luccio, for a full week after they returned home. He missed his new friends as well as the food, but it was the taste of independence that he missed most after returning.
He wants to try camp again, although he might be willing to forgo language lessons to get to shoot a bow and arrow. Perhaps I'll look into a classic camp with a pseudo-Native American name for him for next year.
The oldest loved it as well, but he tells me he's not going back. The language experience sufficiently whetted his appetite for Italy, and he's clamoring for a trip to "la cosa reale" this summer.
And my daughter, the 8-year-old, loved her counselors, learned to say "platypus" in German and made a new friend from California. But when I asked her if she was interested in trying it again this summer, she had to think for a few. She said she couldn't decide; she had loved it, but maybe missed us too much.
A week of glorious independence and a newfound appreciation of the virtues of home. That's what camp buys you. And my husband and I agree - it was worth every cent.