Who Does The Laundry in Your Household?

“So, how many of you do your own laundry at home?”

I posed this question to six 13-to-15-year-old campers with whom I was having lunch last August. My tone was casual, but I was eager to deliver my speech.

I was prepared to tell them that they should have started doing their own laundry years ago; that assuming responsibility for their own laundry is an ideal way to develop time-management and planning skills that are invaluable as they face increasing demands from school and other activities. I wanted to tell them that with gadgets in their hands virtually from day one, young kids are perfectly capable of learning how to run a washing machine and dryer (and if they were to deny it, suggest it might be best for their parents to take away their phone for safe keeping).

Many years ago, taking a cue from Tom Sawyer, I told our daughter Abby—who at age 11 was eager to be regarded as grown-up and responsible and deserving of more freedom and privileges—that when she turned 12, along with some of the things she was asking for, she’d also be allowed to take over doing her own laundry from then on; because when she was 12 I’d know she was mature enough to manage the clothes washer and dryer. Suddenly the washer and dryer took on the cachet of machinery run by adults; earning the privilege of operating them became her keen desire.

And so, following her twelfth birthday party, the Celebration of Laundry took place. Abby carried her laundry basket full of clothes, sheets, and towels to the clothes washer where, to her great satisfaction, she engaged in each stage of choosing settings, twisting dials, and pushing buttons. Her pleasure in the task grew over the next couple of weeks as her little brother Daniel claimed that, since it was so easy to run the machines, it wasn’t fair that he wasn’t allowed to do his own laundry until he was 12.

No surprise; it didn’t take long for reality to set in. One hectic school morning, Abby remembered she had gym that afternoon for which she would have to change into her required green shorts and t-shirt or else suffer the humiliation of “getting points.” She dashed upstairs to her dresser with only minutes until the school bus was due to appear at the end of our street.

“Where’s my gym uniform? It’s not in my drawer!”
“Did you do your laundry last week?”

Abby shot me a look that I will politely translate as, “I can’t believe you’re serious about this.” When I suggested that her choices appeared to be digging through her laundry basket to unearth her (wrinkled, sweaty) gym uniform or getting points for wearing something else, the situation bordered on tragic.

I don’t recall which option she chose. But suffice to say that, having bestowed the same 12th birthday gift to Dan a few years later (by which time he wasn’t as eager, but at that point it was a given), I can count on one hand the number of loads of laundry that I’ve done for either of them in well over a decade. All it took was not stepping in to do the task—even when there might be consequences—combined with the conviction that they were perfectly capable of the chore. Over time and, yes, with a few mishaps along the way, each learned to plan ahead, create schedules, anticipate their needs, and ultimately take satisfaction in being responsible for a very basic and ongoing personal task.

So, back to last August in the messhall and my question, “How many of you do your own laundry?”

Four of the six campers nodded. They were quick to point out that their parents “had made them.” We laughed over the felted wool sweater and bleach-splotched jeans disasters. But they were just as quick to admit that doing their laundry had become routine and they actually preferred being in control. I didn’t even get to give my speech. I figured the two who didn’t do their own laundry were getting the message from their peers, much better than from me.

It struck me that the four boys doing the talking came from different parts of the country, attended both public and private schools, three had siblings and one did not. It came out in the conversation that one had a housekeeper who did all the cleaning but not the kids’ laundry. Interestingly, what they had in common was that these four were longtime Pemi campers, whereas the two teens that did not do their own laundry were new to summer camp.

Senior campers on "Laundry Crew"

Senior campers serve on “laundry crew”

Whether or not there is a connection between the fact that the guys who did their own laundry were longtime campers or not, I like to think that most parents who specifically choose “the Pemi experience” believe that age-appropriate opportunities to take on responsibility not only go hand-in-hand with privileges, but also give children the chance to develop valuable life skills. While doing laundry isn’t always fun, kids who assume ongoing responsibility for it get far more out of the experience than clean clothes.

If you think this might make a great birthday gift to your son or daughter, just remember Tom Sawyer. Sometimes it’s all in how you present it.

~ Dottie Reed

Feel free to post your own suggestions or thoughts on ways to help your kids take on responsibility (which in some cases might mean not helping them!)…

Like Son, Like Father

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.

JimAilerAs 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?!?!?!!

JimAilerfacesKnowing 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


One Mom’s Thoughts on Letting Go

From Junior One to Senior Two

Pemi for me began one evening in August 1998. I was standing at a Cape Cod party, eight months pregnant. An attractive man, about 15 years my senior in blue blazer and tie approached me. Jim, my new neighbor, offered to get me lemonade and then quickly asked if I was having a boy or a girl. Stunned by the familiarity of the question, I stiffly smiled and asked, “Why?” and then for some reason (mainly because he looked kind and normal), I divulged, “…oh, I’m having a boy.” Jim smiled. He paused. He replied, “Well then you need to send him to Camp Pemi.”

I didn’t know Jim from Adam. Jim went on before I could say a word: “Christine, they speak ‘boy’ at Pemi; you’ve gotta send him.  I was a camper, then a counselor. My son was a camper and next year he’ll be an AC (assistant counselor). It is a very special place. Trust me.”

I had known Jim for less than 45 seconds. He was giving strict advice to a mildly neurotic first time pregnant woman about her unborn son.  Yet there was something so easy about the way he talked about Pemi. I felt trust. In the years that ensued I became great friends with Jim and his family and was often regaled with his fun stories (“the year of the big storm!”) about Pemi.

Seven years later I began to really consider Pemi as a sleep-away camp for Harry. A respected teacher at Harry’s private school, who had previously been a counselor in Pemi’s Junior Camp, was my next contact. Andy told me he’d wanted to take a position with the best boys’ camp in New England. He had driven all over and met with many camp directors. Pemi stood out above the rest as a place not only with pristine, beautiful surroundings, but with bright, kind, committed counselors. He told me Pemi was a “great place for a boy to grow up, and a great company of men to grow into.” I could not imagine a better recommendation.

Even with all of this reassurance and vetting, letting go of the firstborn son was difficult. I wondered who would do all of those things Mommy does?  Could an eight year old really care for himself? Would his counselor be attentive to his specific needs? As a single parent I was focused on getting everything “just right.”

But what holds us back as parents is the unknown. There is always a “first” – the first born, the first time that child experiences something big and new, and the resulting parent’s stress and conflict about the unknowns while trying to honor their own high standards of parenting a child.


Harry’s first day at Pemi, 2007

The process of letting go was tough, no matter how confident and peppy I acted for Harry. During a weak moment I told him that I felt like a Spartan mother dropping her son at the edge of the wood in order for him to come back a man. He reminded me that Spartan boys left at six so we were ahead of the game.

When we arrived at Camp, I uncharacteristically (and deliberately) broke a rule: the Pemi dictum of not making the son’s bed. The counselor was incredibly kind. He knew I needed more time to say goodbye, and after a quiet conversation I still remember today, I knew the junior counselor (really a newish adult himself) was capable and ready to care for my son.

Trust is central at Pemi; they thank you for entrusting your sons with them and they understand that it takes more than a few recommendations from well-meaning people to allow you to let go and hand over something so precious.

Harry's final year as a camper, 2013

Harry’s final year as a camper, 2013

Today Harry could fill pages if asked to write about his positive experiences at Camp.  He will talk to anyone who will listen about the supportive place where you can try anything and not be afraid; about he time that he lost his toothbrush in the pond, or woke up before dawn to count loons, the finer points of Frisbee Running Bases, and the time TRJR found him at the lake tangled up in fishing line after trying to cast a line for fish.   Little does this son know that his Mom nearly inhaled every letter he sent home talking about pickles at lunch or “send more socks.”

The act of letting go is a constant theme in this complicated business of rearing children.  It’s not a straight line.  But when Harry and I arrived yesterday and walked into Senior Two (waterfront real estate with a fireplace!) I knew “we” had made it.  Harry couldn’t stop smiling.  After all those years of pick ups and drop offs, there wasn’t any stress.  Not only did Harry arrive as a confident Senior, I did too.

 ~ Christine Tuttle

NOTE FROM CAMP PEMI: Many thanks to Christine for launching a new category for the Pemi Blog: “Parent Contributions.” We welcome your personal stories of parenting a Pemi camper. Please email your words of wisdom, humor, or insight to camppemi and, if possible, include an image or two.