NARWHAL. THAT’S my camp name,” my soon-to-be-16-year-old daughter said, smiling with pride. “You take the first letter of your name and then find a sea animal with the same letter.” A pause. “N doesn’t have many options,” she added, seemingly lost in thought.
It was her first year of being a counselor and the role suited her well. As we drove along the glimmering Rodeo Lagoon, she continued to describe in detail the level of cuteness of each camper in her group. While at other times I might have cursed the 20-plus minutes it took to get her to The Marine Mammal Center, the drive gave us invaluable time together. Ten years prior I was driving her with a few friends to go there as a camper, not a counselor. Being involved in TMMC piqued her interest in the ocean — mostly the baby seals there — but she did learn enough to want to return in high school as a youth leader volunteer, aka Narwhal.
Her involvement made me aware of the center and all they do. When you read this month’s Q&A, you’ll meet one of their superstars, Dr. Claire Simeone, a conservation medicine veterinarian who is headed to give a TED talk in Vancouver next month. With that type of accomplishment in mind, we’ve created an official #MarinRepresents hashtag to help promote people and products doing good beyond county borders. I’ve used the hashtag a few times — when I’ve seen products like EO and Rustic Bakery in my travels — but I’d welcome the help of some power posters to give it wings.
Back to camps. Between Natalie and her older sister, I have learned about most of the summer camp options throughout the county. NatureBridge offers kids insight into all things nature as does Slide Ranch (be warned, the geese can be aggressive). A couple of fun-filled day programs were perennial favorites for my girls, although we had a bit of a family feud when I discovered at drop-off that it was ice cream day. I quietly listed a feigned allergy to refined sugar as I signed them in. At pickup they relayed that instead of letting them partake in the make-your- own-sundae event like the other kids, the counselors gave them grapes. Still a sore point.
Our day camp forays were short-lived; I had a hard time justifying the cost if it didn’t involve education or learning a skill. We did try a few sleepaway programs, with limited success. Often shipping off both girls as a package deal, I made the mistake of sending Natalie to Tahoe before she was ready to be away from home. The week was hell for all of us. My niece, on the other hand, found her people at a three-week sleepaway camp in Seattle; she went every summer for as long as she could and maintains deep, lasting friendships with her camp friends.
Meanwhile, back in Marin, Natalie’s older sister Grace discovered horses, thanks to Miwok Stables and a one-ton four-legged land mammal named Teddy. She later taught riding there and at Nicasio Riding Club and these days is a happy member of the equestrian team down at UCSB.
There are so many opportunities to ignite passions in kids, often in summer programs right here in Marin. As I read through the college application essays by my daughters and niece, I see that camp was a common theme for all three.
In this issue we celebrate summer camp with a guide to options in the county and beyond. Why March? This is the month when camps open registration and when most (never me) smart and organized parents start their planning. Go forth and mold your child’s future, but hey no pressure.
This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition under the headline: “Sign Up Now“.