Summer camp was not part of my childhood experience. For Adam, it was. Every summer, for four weeks, Adam attended Greenwoods Camp in Decatur, Michigan. Camp consisted of kayaking, canoeing, eating s’mores, and building bonds with new and old friends. A couple of weeks ago, after more than fifteen years, Adam revisited Greenwoods Camp. This time, instead of visiting as a camper, Adam visited as a gay dad.
Traditionally, Greenwoods Camp hosts two, four, or eight-week overnight programs for children ages 7-15. They also host Family Camp, an overnight camp experience for campers and their families. Last year, for the 2016 season, Greenwoods Camp added an additional family-oriented program to their list: CampOut, an overnight camp for LGBT parents and their children. CampOut congregated for the first time in August 2016, around the same time Silas was born. We were still immersed with the joys and challenges of having a new child, and ultimately, we decided to opt out of CampOut that year.
This summer, with Silas being old enough, our family was finally able to experience CampOut. Adam was ecstatic about revisiting his childhood memories and sharing those memories with our children. I’ll be honest- I’m not an “outdoorsy” type of person. Camp, bluntly put, didn’t appeal to me. And yet, my level of excitement, of anticipation, matched Adam’s. This camp experience wasn’t about water sports, bug spray, or bunk beds; it was about understanding my husband’s favorite memories; it was about my children and about them having a childhood that surpasses my own; it was about acceptance and progress. CampOut is more than camp- it’s validation. It’s proof that even when we feel the most alone, we’re not alone, not even a little bit.
As a parent, regardless of your sexual orientation, you wonder if you’re doing a good enough job. You worry about your children and if you’re satisfying their needs. As a gay parent, the worries are multiplied. We want our kids to feel normal despite living in a heteronormative climate. We want the relationship we share with our children to be joyous, love-filled, and not at all tainted with resentment. Adam and I are doing our best to immerse our kids in the gay community while ensuring that they fit in with the rest of the world. It’s important for us to start early so that memories of other gay families will become a part of Sophia and Silas’ lives. CampOut provided us with that outlet. Sophia had the time of her life at CampOut. Silas is barely a toddler, but we know he had fun too. If Sophia or Silas should ever face adversity for having gay parents, we want them to remember the friends they made at CampOut. We want them to have fun, exciting memories of the LGBT community. We want our children to have a reminder that there are many other people like them and that they are never alone, not even a little bit.
CampOut is just as important for my development as it is for Sophia and Silas’s. After leaving CampOut and reflecting on the weekend, I realized just how much I had wanted, had needed an experience like this. I needed that sense of acceptance and support; I needed to see other families that were like mine; I needed CampOut. I’m a relatively new father still- my children are both under five years old- and sometimes I need validation. I want to know that I’m doing things right. I want to see older kids, kids older than Sophia and Silas, kids with more life experience, being happy. I saw that at CampOut. There were eight, nine, ten-year-old children who were happy, really happy. If these kids were bullied due to their parent’s sexual orientation, you couldn’t tell. These kids validate that, even as years progress and the world’s ugly side exposes itself more and more, children of gay parents can have normal, happy lives. They validate, for me, that Sophia and Silas will be okay, and that they will never be alone, not even a little bit.
As previously stated, camp wasn’t part of my childhood. It will, without a doubt, be part of my adulthood. Each year, as the weather warms, I’ll look forward to kayaking, canoeing, eating s’mores, and building bonds with new and old friends. I’ll never be an “outdoorsy” person- it’s just not who I am- but after CampOut, I consider myself to be a camp person. After all, the camp experience isn’t always about campfires, sweat, and grass stains. This camp experience, my camp experience is about validation and support. It’s about a sense of community and knowing that I’m never alone, not even a little bit.