A few months I made a decision to send my kids to the camp I grew up at this summer. It is still possible to visit my mother who is still living in the house I grew up in, which may or may not be for much longer. I have very vivid, happy memories of my time at this one camp and I wanted to give the same experience to both my kids: singing on the yellow bus that took me back and forth to camp, canoeing, archery, horseback riding, cooking, camping out in the woods, being a good enough swimmer to make swim team. Most of all, I remember the Jewish spirit - learning about Jewish culture, singing Jewish songs, meeting Israeli scouts who came to perform for us, making Jewish food, singing the Israeli anthem, being inspired to celebrate Shabbat at home.
Research indicates that attending a Jewish summer camp is a key factor in the creation of a Jewish identity. I have wanted them to have this experience for some time, and now that they are ages 7 and 9, and I have more time on my hands than usual, it was time to sign them up. They attend town camp at home, primarily because camp in the Northeast is hugely expensive and we take really big trips abroad every year.
However, my kids weren’t as excited about the prospect of going to a camp in another city/state as I was. I’m actually from Atlanta, but we live in New York. They don’t know a soul here, except for my mother and childhood friends. For months, I think they thought I was humoring them when I declared that they would be going to MJCCA Summer Day Camps right after school ended. The only glitch is that even though I knew we would be going well in advance, it took me a while to get my act together to register, and we didn’t make the yellow bus that I so fondly remember being dropped off at it. It was a singing yellow bus. We sang camp songs all the way to camp, down the 85 highway. Instead of my kids hopping on that bus daily, I’d be the designated chauffeur. The other glitch: the camp is 30 minutes away from my mom’s house – without traffic. It’s a haul. But in my mind, a worthwhile haul. I wanted my kids to have this experience more than anything.
So, here we are. Day #3 of the camp I spent my youth at. How is it going? Well, it depends on the minute. To date, it’s been hard to decipher their reactions. Here’s the chain of events:
Day #1: After dropping the kids off right on time, we found out they are going to the camp in a trolley (fun, right?). They found seats between kids they didn’t know, obviously, and proceeded to look straight ahead, not at me. When I caught a glimpse of my daughter, there was a tear going down one of her cheeks. Reality sunk in that my kids were not really into the idea of going to my childhood camp. Seven hours later, after my return trip going 45 minutes back on the highway but not sick of the journey yet, my mom came along for the ride. After 10 minutes of what seemed to be all positive feedback about the camp, they launched into a tirade of “how could I send them to a camp where they don’t know anyone?” There was no talk of Boker Tov (how they welcome the kids to camp) or Lehitraot (their send off) or the Jewish camp songs they sing while the flag is raised. It was all, “How could you do this to us?”
Day #2: After waking up at 7am to make them breakfast, lunch, get their bags ready and push them out the door, we went back to the trolley awaiting their arrival. My son informed me he was going to break into tears again. I had told them camp is like a date, give it one more chance. That afternoon, after driving back through Atlanta traffic, the response was better. She had gone fishing and played tennis, and even made latkes in Kosher Cooking. He had gone on a scavenger hunt and had gone up and down the water slide for what appeared to be hours. We went for a frozen yogurt to celebrate. I even got a few stories and heard the names of their fellow campers while looking at photos taken at the camp on Shutterfly of my seemingly very happy children. Things were looking up.
Day #3: My son would not leave the house. He declared he hates camp. It’s the worst camp ever! Yet he got dressed, ate breakfast and got in the car. Upon arrival we missed the first trolley and had to wait for the second. Seven hours later, after making the long drive back to camp through what appears to be 405 traffic, I picked them up, vowing not to ask about the day. And the words came pouring out. We did this, we did that, I get to do this tomorrow, if I could only be here next week I would get to do this. Then as the evening progressed, I heard my son sing Hebrew songs. We checked out tomorrow’s schedule together and discovered even happier photos posted by camp. There are photos of my son with new friends, with their arms wrapped around each other. My daughter has a smile from here to the moon, posing in what appears to be a lovely group of girl. Now she wants to come back here next summer and to go the camp for two weeks….as long as she can bring a friend from New York.
Oh, and get this, he proudly wore his camp shirt home.
Whatever the case, this was an experiment with a good ending. As their mother, this was something that I wanted to do for them. I knew in my heart that it would work out.
But now about the commute I’m putting in twice a day to get them there and back? It’s just what a mom who loves her children does.