This year marked my fourth summer of hosting “Camp Grandma.” A woman I know does something similar each year, but her name for it is much more creative—“Camp Runamok.” (And her name for it is probably more appropriate.)
I took on the camp challenge four years ago as if it were a “real” camp. I set up a spreadsheet and created a schedule day by day, hour by hour. As I set about my planning, I was excited about the possibilities and about spending a week with my five grandchildren, who were then 14, 8 (two of them), 5, and 2. The youngest joined camp the second year, the same year the oldest moved on to other things.
Morning was to start with everyone getting dressed, washing up, and cleaning up their rooms (the "boys' dorm" and the "girls' dorm"). Then it would be on to breakfast and after that, cleanup. And, as at any good camp, the days would officially being with setting out the American flag, saying the Pledge of Allegiance, and singing patriotic songs.
Opening exercises at Camp G, 2009.
Each child would then have a chance to be weather reporter for the day, giving a pronouncement on what the day’s weather would hold. The theme for camp was to be “Learning to live lightly on Mother Earth.” Planned activities included picking up roadside trash, and field trips included places like Bolton's Community Garden and Drumlin Farm in Lincoln.
A Camp G field trip to learn about a community garden.
The first year reality followed the plans fairly closely—until temperatures and humidity levels soared. We spent a lot of time by the pool. The second year, the distance between the ages of the campers grew to be a chasm, and the older two wanted little to do with the younger two, who followed the older ones everywhere they went. There was a lot of “telling” going on, and an occasional tantrum. The mood seemed to be, "C'mon--this is Grandma's, it's not camp!"
Last year camp plans grew more flexible and included a lot of pool time, and a project to build—and sleep out in—a lean-to. The kids enjoyed being allowed to use the hand saw and loppers to prepare the poles that were to be the supports for the lean-to.
Campers working on lean-to poles.
The project, however, proved to be beyond the attention span of the campers, who were now 10, 7, and 4, so was abandoned after the two main support poles were put in the ground.
We planned separate field trips for the two pairs, which turned out to be very successful. My older granddaughter and grandson went with my husband to Animal Adventures in Bolton, to see exotic creatures like alligators and (ugh) snakes. I took the younger granddaughter and grandson to Drumlin Farm, where we toured a vegetable garden; visited with sheep, chickens, pigs, goats, and horses; went on a hayride; and got a close look at some owls, hawks, and other birds that had been injured and were no longer able to live in the wild.
Campers on a hayride at Drumlin Farm.
This year there were only three campers, as my oldest grandson had other plans. And this year’s camp plans? Stay cool, and go with the flow. It was beastly hot and humid. Without our pool, which we lost last winter under the weight of the record snowfall, we took the kids to a local beach twice—until one of them came out of the water with a leech on her leg. (Then it was back to the lawn sprinkler.)
Despite the age differences—Lyndsey, 11, Ari, 8, and Adam, almost 6—we had a pretty good week, with only a couple of minor squabbles. We visited a nearby playground; made a trip to the library for a book, a movie, some air conditioning, and some general playtime; and took in the new African artifact museum in Clinton (which I highly recommend). We enoyed a movie in Worcester, for which the price of admission was merely one summer book report per child.
We took the dog for a walk at Bowers Springs (known to us as “Bow-wow Springs,” for all the dogs who visit the popular Bolton conservation area), and Papa treated the kids to fishing lessons while the dog became acquainted with water for the first time.
We made time for stories—following our tradition that each person gets to make up and tell his or her own short story—at our favorite “story rock” in the woods and on the bench swing in the backyard. At night, before bedtime, the kids hung out in my bedroom—the only air-conditioned room in the house—while I read from a chapter book.
My color-coded camp-schedule spreadsheet was a good way to start. But sometimes just letting things unfold works better for everyone.