When alumnus Jim Thomas and his wife Nicole, residents of Boulder Colorado, came to pick up their son Ailer (9) after his first summer at Pemi, we happened to be recording interviews to update some videos for our new website. Jim, as an alum, was a natural candidate to interview, and he gladly offered his perspective on what it felt like to have his son experience the place that had meant so much to him as a boy.
Knowing that Nicole, when we’d first met her, had been somewhat reluctant to send Ailer to Pemi, I asked her if she would like to offer a few words. Somewhat hesitantly, she clipped on the mic. The camera started rolling, and I asked the question, “So what was it that allowed you to let go of Ailer?”
Nicole’s response took us by surprise. Her story was moving; an unexpected—and yet perfectly understandable—angle of “letting go.” She generously agreed to write a version for the Parent Contributions category of our Pemi Blog…
During my very first visit to meet my boyfriend’s parents, my now husband wanted to show me around the house. When we got to his childhood bedroom he went straight for the bookshelf, grabbed an old binder, and started turning the pages. We sat together and he showed me his old nature journal. Flipping page after page, he proudly showed me the dried-pressed leaves, told me about the plants they came from, and explained that he was a Pemi Brave.
This was my introduction to his ‘first love,’ Camp Pemigewassett!
I never went to camp as a girl; instead I visited my grandmother for a few weeks each summer. So the idea of going to camp was very foreign to me. But Jim was full of life and I could see him light up as he talked about his experiences at summer camp. He talked about Pemi like it was his.
As time went by we got married and started having a family of our own. Jim and I are the kind of parents who love to explore and try new things with our children. I adore the way Jim teaches our children and takes time to be with them in nature. I asked him if he used to go camping with his parents. “No I haven’t camped since I was at Pemi.”
And so it would go; “Pemi” would just show up. We might be sailing, for instance, and someone would ask Jim where he’d learned how. “At camp” was always his answer. Or a coworker might comment on Jim’s capabilities in so many areas, and he’d say, “I am not an expert at anything but I can do most things pretty well because of camp.”
Jim is the kind of guy who is happy to try new things. I love this about him. We often talk about the big influences and moments that have shaped our lives. I have to say at first I was surprised to hear Jim say that he is who he is because of his time at Camp Pemigewassett.
This is where I should tell you a little about me. I am the kind of mom who slept with our kids until they were two. In fact, much to my husband’s dismay, it still warms my heart when the kids ask if they can sleep in our room. My friends think I am the ‘crazy’ mom. You know, the kind who looks forward to summer vacation and feels sad when her kids go back to school. Let’s just say if there are such things as invisible umbilical cords I still have them. So when our son became old enough to go to camp I was not interested one little bit. I mean who in their right mind would send their kid half way across the country for three and a half weeks? Gasp! SEVEN?!?!?!!
Knowing our son was camp age, however, got me thinking. But rather than dwell on him and my reluctance to send him away, I found myself thinking about my husband, Jim, and how much I appreciate who he is in the world, in our community, and in our family. And for the first time I started to make the connection between his camp experience and the man he is today. Then I remembered the joy and spark I saw in him every time he talked about being a boy at camp.
Something changed; something shifted for me. Reflecting on my love for my husband and how much he means to me created a new context for thinking about what the camp experience might mean to our son. The confidence to try new things; the ability to feel successful and strong; excitement for nature and the world around you; diplomacy and kindness when working with others; an understanding of being independent. And the strength to believe in yourself. Wow! Who wouldn’t want THAT for her son?
We did it. Our son had his first summer camp experience and now, when I see the spark and joy on his face every time he talks about his summer camp, I am all the more thankful for Camp Pemigewassett.
~ Nicole Thomas
(For all the Moms and Dads out there with a camp background who are married to someone who never went to camp, this approach just might come in handy when the topic of summer camp for your son or daughter comes up at the dinner table. As they say, “Love conquers all.”)
~ Dottie Reed