How to Pack a Child for Sleepaway Camp—At the Last Possible Moment

Sleepaway camp, packing, summer, parenting

When I tell people my daughter is going to sleepaway camp for a month, some people react with judgment, or some react with sympathy, but those who have sent their own children always empathize with the daunting task of packing.

It’s no easy undertaking, packing your child for a whole month away from home. I was in denial about the fact that she was leaving. I spent the last few weeks ignoring it, not thinking about it, and putting off the entire task of packing until the day before we had to leave. And then I accepted an invitation to brunch on that very day. I’m just not someone who turns down brunch. Never have been, never will be.

And you know what? It all worked out.

I could have agonized over it for the past month, ironing little personalized labels into everything and having everything packed and ready ahead of time, and gone into my Friday morning brunch at Le Moo stress-free. But that’s not how it played out, and I’m OK with it.

Here’s what I did: I printed out the list Thursday afternoon. I planned her entire camp wardrobe around this Lilly hat. That way, anything she wears will coordinate with anything else she wears, and it will all match this hat. I am definitely not a crazy person.

I’m one of the few mothers left who actually cares if my preteen daughter looks cute. I refuse to buy her athleisurewear. I make her dress nicely for school. (I wish she wore a uniform but her school is one of these places that values self-expression. Eyeroll.) For camp I’ll buy cotton or linen (non-spandex/athletic) shorts and crisp colorful shirts with stripes or ruffles or little details, but they can’t have stupid feminist sayings on them. This is not because I object to the message, but because I object to the aesthetics.

I don’t buy anything for camp that I don’t want to look at the rest of the summer. Sorry, capri leggings from Iviva. I know most girls think you’re cool, but you don’t make my cut unless my daughter is actually attending a yoga class.

So before brunch, I placed a massive online order to be picked up at Target in two hours: toiletries, cotton shorts, colorful shirts, pjs—none of it so important that I care if I never see it again. I had my mimosas and my smoked salmon and my conversation with friends. Then I picked up the massive online order, and sorted it into extra large Ziploc bags. All the shirts in one bag, all the shorts in another, all the pjs in another. Everything to wear went in one huge duffel bag, and everything to use (sheets, towels, beach towels, stationary, organization supplies) went into another. Then a friend came over with her kids and we drank champagne while they played, because the packing was mostly done. The end.

I sort of compare packing for camp to registering for baby items as a pregnant mom. I remember how daunting the task was, as I stared at the huge wall of different kinds of pacifiers and thought, “What have I gotten myself into?” Then, I took a step back. I had a figurative (not a literal) mimosa. I made the task smaller until it was manageable, which for me meant waiting until my baby was born to see what her actual needs would be. (I did this for all of my children, and the gadgets that worked for each of them were different).

We can allow ourselves to stress out about the mom tasks that we have to do. We can put pressure on ourselves to spend a month packing for camp and ironing labels into clothes. Or we can step back from the iron, ask ourselves if we really care if this particular $6 shirt from Target gets lost, and make time for brunch instead.

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