Doing it this particular summer, of course, means adhering to strict safety guidelines amid the coronavirus. If that isn’t possible, it’s better to tuck this idea away for a future time.
In our case, my New York son and his family decided to spend part of the summer in Dayton. Before Camp Dayton started, (they call us Grandma and Grandpa Dayton), we quarantined for the first two weeks, each in a separate home.
“I think if the parents and grandparents are doing safe distancing, wearing masks and have no fever or symptoms of illness, it’s probably safe,” says Dr. Steve Swedlund, a gerontologist and assistant professor at Wright State’s School of Medicine. “But we still don’t know all of the data about COVID-19.”
Swedlund says if there is any chance that anyone is going to be seeing other people, he would advise wearing a mask and removing it only to eat. Because 2-year-old children can’t really wear masks, he doesn’t advise a grandparent camp for them this summer. “The older children,” he adds, “can do a lot outside — bicycling, hiking.”
Ogletree says as a child she didn’t know a grandparent. “I promised myself that if I ever had grandchildren, I would be the best grandmother I could be,” she says. Her oldest grandson, Anthony Thompson, says she fulfilled that promise.
“As a person, Mimi is a walking human embodiment of love and pride,” says Thompson, now 24, living in Los Angeles and working for a major record label. “Every museum and park and destination she took us heard her lively and excited voice explain what her camp was and how blessed she was to be gifting these memories to her grandkids, and herself, too. She encouraged us to take pictures and record and journal our memories often. Even if we as a family meet for a holiday on a cruise or at a relative’s house, she calls it ‘Camp Mimi: Offsite.’ Making memories was never confined to her Dayton home. She’s basically the human version of, ‘Let’s make it a great day together.’”
In addition to outings and at-home activities, Ogletree expanded her grandchildren’s world by introducing guests at camp: Dayton Opera’s marionettes; friends who hosted a progressive dinner for campers; an etiquette expert to teach the placement of dinnerware, silverware and crystal and jump-ropers to demonstrate their artistry. One night, everyone got dressed up and attended a show at La Comedia. On Sundays, everyone went to church.
“One day we grandkids woke up to a tour bus in front of Mimi’s house,” Thompson recalls. “It took us from her driveway to The Wilds outdoor safari, which felt like a day trip to Africa and we were back in Dayton before dark. That was a wild and unforgettable day!”
Ogletree involved the community as well. Campers served at the House of Bread and made cards for nursing home residents. “I wanted them to know that sometimes people need help in their lives and that could be us,” Ogletree explains.
Thompson says Camp Mimi brought grandkids and cousins together from multiple states, summer after summer. “Being adults and young adults now — especially living still in different states and during a pandemic — I feel like we cousins still understand what it means to be close and to be family across the miles,” he says. “We share a common childhood of memories and connectivity.”
Grammy & Grandpa Camp at the Sauers
Susan Sauer of Dayton got the idea of a Grammy Camp from a cousin visiting years ago.
“It sounded like so much fun that we started doing it five years ago when Lila was 10 and Ruthie was 4,” she says. “We do an outing in the morning, have lunch and then do something at home in the afternoon. They live in town so it’s a day camp, but the last night is a sleepover at our house where we have a cookout and make s’mores.”
Her grandchildren are involved with the planning. “We pull out craft ideas from Pinterest and magazines and get together to discuss our ideas,” Sauer explains. “On the first day of camp, we all go out to buy the supplies we’ll need.”
Lila says craft days are her favorite. “Typically we choose a variety of crafts in different difficulties,” she explains. “We’ve done everything from carved rubber stamps and concrete planters to simple tie-dye shirts. My favorite crafts are the ones I get to use in my everyday life, like the paint poured canvases and confetti bowls.”
Ruthie looks forward to mini-golf. “We’ve tried different places, but the best place I’ve discovered is Trails Mini Golf,” she says. “My favorite project we’ve done is ice-dye tie-dye sweatshirts.”
Sauer outings range from canoeing to trips to visits to Aullwood Audubon Farm. Because of the pandemic, this year many of the activities were held outside; the family went fishing, for example. Instead of going to restaurants for lunch as they’ve done in the past, each day featured a different ethnic meal — Indian, Japanese, Mediterranean — which was picked up from local restaurants, then eaten at home. “We all wore masks anytime we were out and we were much more careful,” Sauer says. “We skipped the overnight.”
The family always has an evaluation on Friday evening. "We review the week, talk about what we liked and didn't like, what worked and didn't work and ideas for next year," Sauer says. "I write it all down so we can refer to it when we plan next year's camp."
Daughter-in-law Meridith Sauer says this summer’s Grammy & Grandpa Camp was especially appreciated. “It was a nice change of routine for all of us,” she says. “Even though some of it was stuff we could have done at home, having it be a certain week gave structure to our unstructured life right now.”
Give it a try
If you’re thinking of hosting a grandparent camp, consider the advice my son offered — be sure to share your own interests and passions with the kids. In our case, I wrote a short chapter each day for a family story book, taught the kids new words, engaged them in a lot of imaginative play. Others might be inclined to include more sports, art or cooking.
Mimi, who turned 85 last May and asked each of her grandchildren to write her a letter for her birthday, concludes with this advice: “Whenever grandchildren show up, call it Camp Grandma or Grandpa. Make it something special they will remember.”