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Muddah, faddah! Not everyone loved summer sleepaway camp

For some, summer camp played out much like Allan Sherman's 1963 hit, "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh." It was awful. With nearly 9 million kids set to take off for their own summer sleepaway camp, what do those who loathed every minute have to say? 

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"I had no alternative but to bite one of them," she said. Not surprisingly, she was soon sent home. But Cooper didn't grow up to be a hermit in the woods. In fact, she makes a living dealing with groups of strangers, running the Esotouric bus tour company in Los Angeles with her husband.

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Others also note that being miserable at summer camp is not a sign that someone's going to be meek or fearful as an adult. Ryan K. Croft, 29, of Arlington, Va., was once a "mama's boy" who cried himself to sleep at camp. But he grew up to found an international adventure travel company, leading more than 100 group trips to 20 countries on four continents.

"My family likes to say I was a late bloomer and just needed more time than others to find my way," he said. "I personally just think it's coincidental or irony at its finest."

Sometimes the problem with sleepaway camp was a simple mismatch. One woman was sent to a Bible camp even though her family never went to church. Jason Fischbach, 23, was sent to a Jewish camp in New York, but "I didn't know the prayers. I couldn't tell the same stories as other kids, and I didn't fit in at all. I was bullied for being different."

Some kids hated camp at first but over the course of several summers grew to like it. Kevin Strauss, 43, of Leesburg, Va., cried all the time at his first camp, at age 7. Other kids made fun of him, and he even got into a fight. "I can still remember it 36 years later," he says. His second time away, he got poison ivy. "I spent a lot of time at the infirmary because it felt like someone was there to take care of you, kind of like your mom," he said.

But his third time, as a sixth-grader, was "fantastic," recalled Strauss, founder of a website called FamilyeJournal.com. As an adult, Strauss says, he's loved wilderness expeditions, and even though he hated the camp pool, he's become an Ironman athlete who goes "swimming in the ocean for miles."

Maybe, he observes, some kids just aren't "ready to separate" from mom or dad when they're first sent to camp. "Eventually we do grow up and learn independence but everyone is different and has their own pace," he said.

So what's the take-away for parents, given that some campers never get over being homesick, others grow to enjoy camp, and some who hate the experience as kids became adventurous adults?

Fran Walfish, a family psychotherapist in Hollywood who writes for Parents magazine's "Ask the Expert," doesn't recommend sleepaway camp for kids under 9 unless they are very outgoing and transition easily, or unless an older sibling is at the same camp. Even with older kids, she recommends sending them to camp with a good friend so they have a built-in buddy.

And if you get tearful letters or calls home, "do not ever leap abruptly to rescue," she advises. But do call the camp, and "if the trend is not getting better by day three or four, that is cause for concern." Some kids have more separation anxiety than others, and a depressed child who can't eat or sleep shouldn't be forced to stay away.

But it's also important to make sure kids don't spend the summer watching TV and playing videogames. Fortunately, Walfish notes, there's an alternative: Day camp, where they "can sleep in their own beds at night."

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