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Summer-camp separation woes
By Matt Christensen
Times-News writer

*Orininal article can be seen at Magicvalley.com

TWIN FALLS -- As the Chapman family car zipped over the Perrine Bridge, 11-year-old Jordan thought, just for a moment, about jumping out.

"No, Mom," he said. "I can't do this. I'm not doing this, Mom. No way. Let's turn around."

Five minutes later, the Chapmans rolled onto the College of Southern Idaho campus, Jordan still aboard. Kelleen Chapman, Jordan's mother, kissed her son and her 9-year-old daughter, Kelsey, hopped back into the car and took off.

They'd made it. The kids were at camp, Mom was in the car, and there hadn't been a single tear shed. A miracle, considering this was the first time the Chapman kids would be away from home -- alone -- more than a few days.

It was, as Kelleen later said, "a successful summer-camp drop-off."
Between now and September, hundreds of Magic Valley children will head to summer camp. It's an exciting prospect for some, an experience others dread -- particularly children not used to being away from home. American Camp Association research shows that 83 percent of campers experience homesickness. A small fraction of those kids will make a rescue call to mom and dad -- I want to come home.

But separation stress isn't exclusively a kid problem. Jeff D. Derry, clinical director at SUWS camp for troubled adolescents in Gooding, said it's parents, not children, who get hung up dealing with separation.
"Some parents are very nervous on drop-off day," he said. "Most children are excited."

Camp leaders realize this, he said, and spend as much time comforting parents as children that first day.

"One thing we talk a lot about," Derry said, "is that this is part of helping a child develop."

In other words, separation is natural, even essential. A week at summer camp away from mom and dad can allow a child to progress as an individual. It's a chance for children to become more independent.

It can also be a time for parents to collect themselves. Derry, who is a mental-health counselor, said it's OK for parents to have a good time while the kids are away.

Other camp leaders agree. Pamela Link, director at Camp Crescendo, the camp the Chapman children attended last summer, said parents should go out with their spouses, take mini vacations, spend time with younger children left at home. Do anything -- except sit and worry about the campers.

Kelleen's husband, Jerry Chapman, took a day off work during the children's absence. They saw a movie, had a date.

"That was a freedom on our end we hadn't experienced in a long time," she said. "It was great. Really great."

The Chapmans didn't have much to worry about. They'd done their homework. Kelleen visited with camp counselors before drop-off day. She took the children to tour the dorm building where they would stay. She let the kids spend a weekend at the grandparents'. The summer before Camp Crescendo, Kelleen went to camp with the kids. (She worked as a volunteer.)

But as the Chapmans drove from their home near Wendell to the CSI campus last summer, Kelleen feared all this preparation was in vain. Jordan started to freak out. Kelleen steered the conversation toward the fun things the children would do at camp -- a tactic Derry and Link recommend.

And when it came time for goodbyes, Kelleen made them short and sweet. Lingering, Derry and Link said, only amplifies any anxiety a child might feel.

A week later, Kelleen picked up Jordan and Kelsey. This time was the occasion for tears -- for new friends who'd be missed. Turns out all the hubbub a week earlier was for nothing. The Chapman children, and parents, had a wonderful time.
In three weeks, Jordan and Kelsey will return to Camp Crescendo a little wiser, less nervous and more excited. In fact, they're looking forward to some time away from mom and dad.

Times-News features writer Matt Christensen can be reached at 735-3243 or matt.christensen@lee.net.
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