For several years John and I and our three sons lived in Pelham Manor, N.Y., across the street from the Tweedy family, Alice Merwin Tweedy and her husband Bud and their children Meg and Bill. We would get together on Friday nights, and always the subject of Camp Mowglis would enter into the conversation.
Alice’s father had been involved with Mowglis for years. Her brother Gaius was a camper and on the board for years. Her son Bill attended the camp for several summers and served on staff as well. Gaius Jr. was a camper, as was his son. Meg attended and was a counselor at Onaway for many summers, and Alice was the president of the Board of Trustees of Camp Onaway for several years.
What chance did we have? We were reluctant to allow our sons to go away for a WHOLE SUMMER (!), but gradually, listening to the stories about the many benefits of a Mowglis summer, we decided to visit. It was the summer of 1982, when our oldest son Todd was 11 years old. We saw lots of very busy, engaged, energetic, and obviously happy boys. I wondered to myself how they could be so happy when their parents must have been heart-broken without them. Weren’t they homesick?
Todd liked what he saw and decided he would like to go the following summer. (Really? But what about me? Could I possibly survive this?) So at the end of June in 1983, Todd got in a van and headed north. Each day I waited by the mailbox for a letter and was rewarded with tales of the week’s activities. I still have the enthusiastic letters describing Land Sports Day, Woodsmen’s Day, Water Sports Day, many trips, and mountains climbed. The letters describing the buildup to Crew Day (the Beetons were RED Crew) and the day itself were so full of excitement!
Our first visiting weekend was bittersweet. I thought we’d just gotten there when we had to turn around and go home again. But Todd was clearly thriving and loving his summer.
Each visiting day, Jeremy and Kyle accompanied us and enjoyed the weekends. Jeremy wasn’t ready to go until three years later, but Kyle was eager to go even before Jeremy! They’d both sat and watched Bob Bengtson’s slideshow and talk at gatherings at our home, and Kyle begged us to go. “You’re too little,” we’d say, but finally, the year Jeremy was going, when Kyle was turning 9, we gave in to the pressure.
That summer, all three boys were at Mowglis. Todd was on Junior Staff, Jeremy was in Akela, and Kyle was in Cubs. The first time in 15 years we had no kids at home. We lived for visiting weekends. We figured that a half-season would be enough for Kyle at his young age, so at the first weekend, we asked Kyle if he wanted to come home, believing he was pining away from homesickness. He looked at us dumbfounded. “Why?” he said, “I want to stay!” I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad! Was he really having such a great time that he didn’t want to come home? But didn’t he miss us?
So he stayed and finished out the first of seven wonderful summers. Jeremy graduated from Den in 1988. Kyle continued through a second year of Cubs, on to Baloo, Toomai, Akela, Panther, and graduated from Den in 1992. At some point during his Mowglis years, Kyle said, “What do kids do all summer if they don’t go to camp?” Indeed. He couldn’t imagine a summer without being at Camp.
We felt that sending our sons to Mowglis was a gift to them. They experienced things there that we never would have been able to give them. We believe that Mowglis is responsible in part for the fine men they have become. Integrity, sportsmanship, respect for nature and the earth, teamwork, honesty, respect for others’ differences, a strong worth ethic — these are all things we all teach our children, but living them day in and day out for several summers gave them the practical experiences they couldn’t have gotten at home.
Being away from their schoolmates allows boys be free of pressures to “fit in,” to follow the crowd, and allows them to think for themselves and choose activities they might not at home.
People will often say, “How could you have sent your sons away? How could you have done that to them? I could never do that to MY son.” Yes, it was hard. Very hard. We missed them terribly. But we knew that the benefits for them far outweighed our pangs of loneliness.
I look at them today and answer, “How could I not?” John and I were so grateful for those years. And I dare say our sons would agree with me 100 percent!
Diana Beeton, CT