And they all played happily ever after…is not the way this story ends. It ends with one cousin, wearing pink travel headphones, Little Mermaid on the DVD paused mid-song, sobbing in ragged, soul-sucking gulps, hand frozen in a half-goodbye wave. It ends with two other cousins, en route to Target, distracted from sibling bickering with ragged sobs of loss. You’d never write, let alone read, a story with an ending as sad as this. But my sister and I, we wrote it anyway. We wrote it for all of the good parts that came before “and they all played happily ever after…until the end of Cousin Camp.”
Cousin Camp has become a summer tradition for my family. Not our original idea, but over the past four years, Julia and I have had fun scheming, planning, cooking, making, and adventuring with four cousins who live four hours apart and would gladly live four minutes, nay four feet, apart if they had their wishes.
I’ll be honest, this whole Cousin Camp thing is made for the young at heart and limb. After day one of Cousin Camp this year, I was ready to crawl into bed and call it a week. But the campers? They were up at the crack of dawn waiting for the buzzer on Day 2 to sound.
The Cousin Camp outline is simple: take a batch of cousins, drape them in matching t-shirts, and plan a series of days’ activities that involve sun, water, running, playing, zany foods, and ice cream–always ice cream! The rest of the magic comes from the campers themselves. As Little Friend told me in-between Easter and Fourth of July on Holiday Day this year, “I just want to play with Itty Bitty doing this [gestures to a floor littered with impossibly small and twee toys]. This is more fun than the holiday stuff.”
This year, Cousin Camp had Amusement Park Day, Water Day, and Holiday Day for the three main attractions.
Amusement Park Day
Amusement Park Day found us at Knoebel’s Grove in Elysburg, PA. This tiny Brigadoon of an amusement park may just be my favorite such park with its generously shaded grounds, free admission, plentiful rides, and crowds of impressively tattooed patrons. I could do with significantly fewer tattoos on display. Otherwise, Knoebel’s is a great way to kick off the Cousin Camp fun.
Water Day required some Pinterest board culling and some excellent ideas from Camp Mom, but it’s amazing what a few water sponges, a slip-n-slide, and a hose can do to entertain children. It certainly helps if you have an uncle willing to enter the fray and spend a good portion of the day chasing and being chased by campers. A decent stretch of the afternoon was spent lounging at a neighborhood pool, but a temperamental thunderstorm got grumpy enough to chase us home.
Holiday Day was a whirlwind of wrapping paper, glitter, festive foods, and incongruous costumes as we shoved all major annual holiday events into the clock ticks of a single day. There’s a reason why Halloween and Easter are celebrated during cooler months of the year than July, and that reason rhymes with “-elting -ocholate”. Despite a sweaty egg hunt and sticky Halloween costumes, one day, jam-packed with all of the major holidays of the year, went over quite well with the under 6 crowd. The parents just felt dizzy.
Regardless of the activities and celebrations of Cousin Camp, the real magic of the event happens in the word “Cousin”. Not quite siblings (thank goodness, because we also avoid some accompanying rivalry) but so much more than friends, Little Friend, Little One, Itty Bitty and Buddy love and cherish each other with a ferocity only seen in young children growing up together and mother bears protecting their cubs. Some special tendrils of those bonds reach out and wrap around aunts and uncles too so that Cousin Camp knits all of us together in ways we can’t easily untangle.
And while Cousin Camp has to end and cousins have to part and it feels like it’s all going to be unhappily ever after, we can fish out some memories, or some forgotten melted chocolate, and start planning for Cousin Camp 2014.
It’s never too late to start a Cousin Camp tradition! Here are some of our ideas from this year:
Our favorite menu item from Camp: Rainbow Spaghetti
Make your own sponge balls
Sponge ball Duck-Duck-Splash
Sponge ball partner toss
Sponge ball bucket relay race
Homemade non-toxic body paint (washable!)
Squirt bottle scavenger hunt
Trip to local pool
Many of these ideas and more can be found in the excellent summer guide: Camp Mom Summer Activity Pack
Holiday Day (in order of holidays and activities)
Christmas–presents, singing carols, set up fake tree
St. Patrick’s Day breakfast–green milk with Lucky Charms
Valentine’s Day–glitter heart craft–send a Valentine to a loved one (the cousins gave them to each other)
Easter–egg hunt outside with baskets, candy eggs, and money to exchange for Dollar Store toys
Fourth of July–parade with flags and lunch (hot dogs, watermelon, corn, blueberry-strawberry-banana fruit salad)
Halloween–trick or treating with obliging neighbors
Thanksgiving dinner–chicken (or turkey) pot pies, mashed potatoes, stuffing
Birthdays–presents, cupcakes, ice cream, birthday decorations
New Year’s Eve–countdown and ball drop on YouTube plus movie night with Rudolph’s Shiny New Year