Packing for Pemi: Learn from Dr. Piles

More than a few parents have mentioned a son’s struggle with organization, his inability to keep track of things, and their general hope that he will be more responsible with his belongings while at camp. There are simple ways that you can set him up for success in this quest, which, a little like the case of a picky eater who learns to try new foods when away from mom and dad, can be a great outcome of the camp experience.

Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up. A.A.Milne

No matter how old your son is, he can and should be involved with packing for camp. If he’s not at the age where he refers to the packing list and packs by himself, then he ideally should lay eyes on and/or touch every single item that goes into his duffle(s). The process might take longer than if you pack for him, but being centrally involved—especially in his familiar home setting—makes him aware of what it is that you (and we) hope he’ll keep track of far better than if he sees it all for the first time when he’s unpacking in his new camp setting, when he is far more likely to be distracted. You can always guide and simplify his decision-making with a little behind-the-scenes prep. For instance, the packing list says “6 T-shirts” beyond the “Pemi Blues” and “Pemi Whites.” So you might pull out 10 or 12 T-shirts that are possibilities, but then step back and let him decide on the 6 that he will bring. (You can do this with anything that comes in multiples: from underwear to sets of sheets to flashlights). What if the six T-shirts he chooses are all green? What if he insists on his “favorites” that he won’t let you give away in spite of that cool-aid stain or the stretched out collar? What if the new T-shirts you purchased especially for camp are in the reject pile? Just bite your tongue, smile, and roll with it, knowing that the very process of his deciding which among many to bring just might imprint the items on that soon-to-be distracted brain, leading to his better oversight of them. In addition, wearing old favorites can provide a bit of comfort and familiarity during an adjustment time and you’ll be a step ahead in back-to-school shopping with those untouched new purchases. It’s a win-win without a battle.

Who needs Dr. Phil when you’ve got Dr. Piles?

Give your son a leg-up by learning from Dr. Piles. Known for 363 days a year as Charlie Malcolm, Pemi’s Director of Athletics morphs in mid-July and at the end of camp into Pemi’s own Dr. Piles, delighting the assembled camp community in the messhall with his lesson on efficient packing. “Do NOT put a single thing into your duffle until you make piles!” he explains. “Put similar items together: your shirts in one pile, your shorts in another pile; your bedding in one pile, your underwear in another pile; your sports equipment in a pile, and your shoes in yet another pile. Put everything you own in piles and in piles that make sense! This way you can see what you have and what you might be missing.” Good advice, Dr. Piles. Providing a staging area at home for camp preparations will allow your son to see everything he is taking and will need to be responsible for. He’ll see how much space it takes up and, with all his belongings in logical piles, he will see the sense of it all. This will make the packing at the end of camp more efficient too. On a side note, a longtime Pemi camper, now a counselor and division head, just posted a photo on the staff facebook page of his packing to return to the states from a year in Peru. The picture showed his piles of clothing and other belongings, neatly organized, with the caption “Dr Piles rolled through earlier this morning.” THIS is what you want for your son!

A name is a kind of face whereby one is known. Thomas Fuller

When everything going to camp is laid out in piles, and before anything goes into the duffle(s), have your son check to see that each and every item has his name on it. Perhaps you ordered Pemi logo wear from the Camp Spot and had them sew in name tags for you, or perhaps you have ironed in name tapes or have taken a sharpie to the inside collar, waistband, etc., of each item of clothing. If you haven’t, now’s the time to get out your needle and thread, your iron, or your permanent marker. But don’t stop with clothing. Label everything that comes to camp. Shoes and athletic items often are unidentified orphans in Lost-and-Found, and many a mom and dad is dismayed when a new tennis racquet or new cleats remain at camp long after parents have reclaimed their sons. Consider this like going through travel security: if you’re flying and you have your ID ready, the process goes much more smoothly and you won’t make the security staff grumpy. Now consider the packing process as if each and every item has to go through travel security. Nothing pleases you, us, and the Lost and Found camp aide more than finding the left cleat, Pemi sweatshirt, beach towel, water bottle, tennis racquet, Crazy Creek chair—you-name-it—and reuniting it with its owner, thanks to pre-camp labeling.

Keeping it all together

While he’s at camp, your son will be supported in his organizational efforts through daily cabin inspection and by the ritual of “packing” each morning—according to his day’s occupations—in the drawstring bag or backpack or sports duffle that he brought from home. This simple routine of looking ahead, planning on what will be needed for each activity, and keeping it all together in one bag cuts down on cleats stranded on the ski dock, a tennis racquet perched on the Nature Lodge porch, or piano music abandoned under the bench by the lax field, and can lead to good, lifelong habits. Of course cabin counselors and staff are always there to help your son and are as involved as each boy’s level of need requires.

And Finally…

The item most often forgotten at home? A pillow. You’ve been forewarned!

~Dottie Reed

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