Cousins Camp is mine and Steve’s favorite week of the year. We eagerly anticipate the day it begins. We laugh constantly throughout the days together. And we miss the kids like crazy when they’re gone. Many of you are starting to have your own versions of Cousins Camp, so you understand completely what I’m talking about. You will ALSO recognize and appreciate some of the challenges I’m about to describe.
- It’s a challenge to plan a week that has enough variety of activities to hold the interest, meet the needs, and be appropriate for children from youngest to oldest. Next year we anticipate incorporating another 4-year-old as a first-timer. And, if we’re lucky, Allie (who will graduate from high school next May) will still be able to participate. That means we’ll have 12 kids from 4 to 18 years old. The older ones keep getting older, and we’re still adding young ones. It’s quite a balancing act.
Obviously there has to be some level of understanding and compromise in order to make it work. Not every activity (or restaurant or meal or craft or theme or sleeping arrangement, etc. etc.) will appeal to every child. We will do our best to lead the older campers to help the little ones adjust and to be patient until their favorite excursions come up. We’ve thought about having 2 separate camps, but to this point, that would totally defeat the purpose of merging the children of all three families.
2. It’s a challenge to eat healthy throughout the course of the week. A variety of fruits are offered at least twice a day, and a few veggies are consumed by those who order them in restaurants (plus, in the past I’ve had carrot sticks and other raw veggies that go with Ranch dressing on hand). Just as in every other family I can think of, our crew has its share of picky eaters. One doesn’t want sauce on his pasta. One picks out the beans in her Hungry Jack casserole. Another doesn’t like chocolate. None of them wants to touch a nut — with the possible exception of peanuts. Some drink milk. Some don’t. One will only eat apples as a fruit. Another will happily eat watermelon but won’t touch a banana. You get the idea. My edict of “Take what you get and don’t pitch a fit” has become a Cousins Camp mantra. They often quote it to each other. We also have a rule forbidding whining, so there’s that. We can pretty much satisfy everyone at breakfast, and I offer at least a little variety in the other meal prepared at home. They may order whatever they want in a restaurant (within reason), so I’m not afraid anyone will starve. Still, I struggle because I want the meals to be more balanced, but I don’t want to buy a lot of food that will merely go to waste.
3. It’s a challenge to stay reasonable from a financial standpoint. Oh yes. I know plenty of grandparents who have spent FAR MORE than we do when they’ve taken their grands to Disney World. That just isn’t feasible in our case — financially or logistically. Mercy! This is important enough to Steve and me to be a line item in our budget. We save for it deliberately from one year to the next, but I still look for bargain activities and meals (99-cent Taco Tuesdays and appealing parks and attractions that are offered for free or for a small fee, etc.). The 15-passenger van we rent for the week is almost $700, and the grocery bill is hefty. It’s worth every penny, but it is a consideration.
4. It’s a challenge to have one-on-one opportunities with each child. Sometimes conversations happen as we’re riding down the road or when one is helping in the kitchen or when one gets up before the rest or when others are playing and one just wants to cuddle for a few minutes. Every now and then, one will get out of the pool and just come over to sit for a little bit. We learn a lot about them — and they learn a lot about us — around the table at mealtimes and during our Family Meetings right before bedtime, but still . . . it would be good to have uninterrupted time alone with each child during the week. Maybe I’ll ponder that a little more before next summer.
5. It’s a challenge to keep it fresh and come up with a new theme each year. For our group, the theme is a big deal. It has become a much-anticipated and oft-debated topic from one year to the next. It usually dictates the look of the t-shirts and quite a few of the activities. I’m constantly on the prowl for good ideas, so please don’t be afraid to share. I’m all ears. So far, we’ve had Zoo Animals, Undersea Creatures, Hawaii, Sports, Around the World, Music and most recently New Things, so I’m not ready to repeat any of those just yet.
6. It’s a challenge to stay physically fit enough and to have the stamina for such an undertaking. I won’t lie to you. We get VERY tired. I remember one year when all the kids drove off with their parents, and Steve and I sat in the family room and just stared silently into space for an hour or more. We couldn’t move or speak. We had taken it all “to the playing field and left nothing in the locker room,” as they say. Each summer the kids are another year older, but SO ARE WE. Gulp! We truly pray that our health will allow us to continue doing this for years to come. It takes a lot of work to get ready for the week, and then it takes a lot of work to put the house back in order after it’s over.
Let me add here that we hope to stay interesting to our grandchildren. At one of the mealtimes, a grandchild asked, “Grandmomma and Granddaddy, how did the two of you meet?” That gave us a chance to share our love story and to get them laughing about (and trying to imagine) our old boyfriends and girlfriends. At another meal, they said, “Tell us some stories about our parents.” They absolutely LOVE hearing how their parents were when they were children or still living at home, and we love to tell the stories.
7. It’s going to become a greater challenge to find a week on the calendar that works for everyone. For the past 7 or 8 years, the last full week in July has suited everyone. Since all but 4 are homeschooled, we mostly had to try to avoid Vacation Bible School weeks, vacation weeks, children’s church camps, swimming lessons and sports camps then fit Cousins Camp in before the public school kids started back. Piece of cake, right? We don’t have to worry about the parents being motivated to work together, because they look forward to a kid-free week every year to invest in their marriages. This year we had 2 teenagers. Next year we’ll have 3 teenagers and a whole passel of pre-teens. They are a busy group with a wide range of interests. They are all in very active churches. etc. etc. etc. So, I’m just saying that finding a time when the grands CAN come to our house for a week is likely to prove more and more difficult and formidable. Steve and I are the flexible ones in this scenario. We’ve had camp in the summer every year except for when my Dad died in July. That year we had it the week leading up to Thanksgiving. It was a day and a half shorter, and we couldn’t include any swimming, but we made it work. “Where there’s a will . . . .”
So there you have some of the realities of hosting a Cousins Camp and the challenges likely to be encountered. It’s worth it, though, friends. For those of you who truly cannot manage a whole week with multiple children, don’t despair. Your Cousins Camp can be shorter — a few days or even just one day. Your Cousins Camp can require the parents to send already-prepared meals for the kids. You can even include the parents — although that creates a totally different dynamic. You can go more low-key with activities. You might even decide to break it down into smaller groups. Whatever works will be fine. I believe that ANY amount of investment we put into relationships with our grandchildren will reap positive benefits. The important element is love.
Maybe you don’t have any grandchildren yet. I urge you to start thinking about how you can personalize such an event to suit your own family dynamics. Steve and I have been enriched immeasurably by doing so.
And, don’t forget. As Christians, we are instructed to do our best in whatever pursuit we’re undertaking. The results are up to God.
And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.”
Colossians 3:23-24 (ESV)
Commit your work to the Lord,and your plans will be established.
Proverbs 16:3 (ESV)
Proverbs 17:6 – “Children’s children are a crown to the aged . . . “