B-B-B-Becket, in the Berkshires
Neath the birches and the Pine,
B-B-B-Becket, in the Berkshires
Where we live one kindred mind.
The other night I lay in bed with my son, our nightly ritual of reading and talking about the day. It is the only time of day where he reveals the mysteries of his nine-year-old life. It is his way of pushing sleep for later, but I indulge him so I can snuggle with him a bit longer.
“I miss Jack, Peter, Niko, Noah, Chris, Ben, Matty and Henry,” Shawn sighed, holding on to his newest stuffed animal, a white spotted leopard from the Bronx Zoo.
“Whoa that’s a lot of people to miss. Who are they?”
Finally he was talking about camp. Nearly a month had past since he returned home from sleep away camp and all I could pull from Shawn when I asked what he liked was, “everything.”
Now in the thick of fourth grade, Shawn is missing camp and his friends. For an entire month Shawn lived at YMCA Camp Becket for Boys in the Berkshires and on the day my husband drove the nearly two hours to pick him up I got a call.
“He doesn’t want to come home,” my husband laughed, should I sign him up for next year?”
Once Shawn came home he wandered through the house bewildered. Yanked from his cabin, a community of boys and leaders who were only a few years older than the campers, Shawn had lost his 24/7 playmates, buddies and confidantes. Pulled away from the pine, birch, fresh water and daily sunset, Shawn seemed like a visitor in his own home. Nothing we did to coax him back to his home life was working, even inviting his school friends for a birthday party at our house the next day!
“It kind of worked” Shawn assured me with a smile.
While cuddling, Shawn explains Becket to me like a wise man, “When you get home from Camp Becket you’re a little mad at your parents because they had to pick you up. You bond with your cabin mates and all these other counselors for over a month. It’s kind of like having a dog die. You realize you are going to see them next year but it is a long ways away.”
Our family never had a dog and certainly never lost a pet aside for Guppy the fish, yet I smile at how articulate Shawn is about loss and longing. Shawn continues to school me on all things camp.
“People think Camp Becket is so fun that they come from Pennsylvania, Texas, New York. There are even some Chinese kids!”
“Tell me about all the people you miss and why do you miss them so much?”
“Jack had a mind like a child and he knew what kids like to do,” Shawn reflects on the assistant counselor, just eighteen years old and an avid soccer player heading to the University of Vermont to start his first year of college.
“Henry was my big brother,” Shawn explains that Henry is an older camper he was paired with to help teach him the ropes of camp.
“He acts like a good person which Henry is. He likes to have fun and only does or points out the positive. If we lose a game, Henry always focuses on the positive.”
Shawn’s long, golden eyelashes begin to flap in slow motion, sleep battling his story. He rallies to tell me more about the camp including a field day called Becket Games that had a Star Wars theme. Darth Vadar was no match for the campers’, pelting him with rolled up socks. Shawn learned how to play rugby, earned the highest swimming tag so he didn’t have to wear a life preserver on the slide and he didn’t miss his electronics or not having electricity in his cabin.
The decision to send Shawn to a month long boys camp sparked some concern, particularly from my mother. In her mind, good parenting can only occur if your child is with you all the time. Despite her protests to me, I invited her up to visiting day to see what Camp Becket was all about.
To her relief, Shawn was still the same agile, energetic, fun loving grandson. She marveled at how Shawn knew everyone, dolling out high fives, challenging one guy to do a back flip which he graciously and perfectly did.
“Everyone is so happy here. Is that an act?” my mother asked while we had a little picnic, Shawn introducing us to everyone that passed by.
“No, I think everyone wants to be here and they are happy here,” I went on to tell her that 80% of the staff were once campers themselves and it is pretty competitive to get a coveted position at camp.
“Everyone is so good looking,” she marveled just after Shawn introduced us to Nick, a towering, buff Australian who was running the camp’s popular Construction Cabin. “Do you have to be good looking to work here?”
“I think it’s just our age mom. Anyone under 25 is good looking,” although I have to admit there was a contingency of Australians who filled out their Becket white t-shirts well.
“I know this is a good place, but a whole month Shawn is out of your life,” my mother fretted.
I appreciate the speed of time and how short childhood is, but I cannot deny that Shawn experienced 30 days of joy and a safe sense of independence.
I won’t get to tuck Shawn into bed much longer. Soon his schedule will crowd me out and eventually he will leave home for college to start his adult life. I want Shawn to gravitate to positive people like Henry and Jack. I want him to know how to have fun in a healthy and productive way. I want him to never be afraid to try a new skill or make a new friend. Camp teaches kids those lessons and for my husband and I, we are giving him a gift, a month long pass to be a little boy, free from parents, teachers and the day to day of home life.
Shawn will return to Camp Becket next summer and set some new goals and make more friends. I will eagerly await his return and look forward to our nightly chats about his camp adventures.
Camp Becket has a sister camp YMCA Chimney Corners Camp for Girls that provides the same life changing experiences for girls.