Why does it sometimes feel almost counter-cultural to pack your kids off to camp? Maybe because we’re living in a time that thinks kids are unsafe all the time, unless a parent or bodyguard hovering directly over them, preferably at home. And anyone who questions that model gets shot down.
Is there anyone in any position of authority who EVER says, “Well, the chances are not 100% that your kid will be safe if you do X, but they’re close enough not to worry about them”? Not yet. In the meantime, I present what passes for wisdom and rationality in modern day America — this “advice” column. Sigh.
This might sound like a crazy question, but at what age do you think a 14-year-old student should be allowed to stay home alone? I am an only child who is going into 10th grade (I turn 15 over the summer), and my parents are still married. I know that is a miracle, because at least 60 percent of my friends have divorced parents. One of my parents works outside the house at a regular job, and the other parent has a home business where she makes and sells crafts over the Internet. It is pretty successful and together they make good money.
So at least one of my parents is always home. And even though I am 14, if they do go out, they still get me a baby sitter. They say that it is similar to an insurance policy to have a college student at the house – no need for the student until there’s a huge demand, and then they will be glad he or she is there. For example, if I get really sick and must immediately go to the hospital. If my parents go to the city or to a play, they want someone at the house who has a car and is old enough to drive.
Cherie, I don’t want to do illegal stuff, but it is humiliating when the baby sitter comes and I am almost as tall as he is. Can you convince my parents to stop this stupidity? I am old enough to be home alone. – Home Alone
To Which Cheri Replied:
I owe you one. You gave me a great reminder why it’s important to have a baby sitter with a car when Jeff and I go out at night. We also have a teen who doesn’t drive, and now that I think about it, there are many reasons for him not to be home alone.
You have good parents when they realize that it is not an issue for you to be home by yourself until it becomes a big problem.
It is just better to have an adult who has a car as well as a little bit more of the good judgment that should come with experience. The chances of a catastrophic event occurring are small, but you never know. They are only covering their bases by having a baby sitter there for you, and I think it is smart.
Someday, you may be that baby sitter for someone else. I hope you don’t have to drive a child to the hospital, or call the parent to say the kid broke an arm; however, it could happen.
For now, set up some ground rules about the baby sitter leaving you pretty much alone, and I think you’ll be OK. Thoughtful letter. Thanks!
Thoughtful letter it may have been. Thoughtful reply? Not. – L
This past Sunday I convinced my sons to join me out back to put up our Sukkah, ritual dwelling for Sukkot, arguing that it was just a really big Lego set. They were happy to build and play until we got to the s’chach, the cut organic material used as the roof of the sukkah. The boys just did not understand it. The s’chach, as compared to all of the other Lego pieces, did not click or tie into place. So I went on to explain that while it needs to be porous enough so that we can see the stars, minimally the s’chach must be thick enough so that it provides more shade then sun light in the Sukkah. Of course they asked why?
Just five days after the solemn day of Yom Kippur, we are off to one of the most joyous holidays of the year. Sukkot, the Festival of Booths, is commonly referred to in our liturgy and literature as Zman Simchateinu, the time of our happiness. I began thinking and questioning the so-called happiness of Sukkot. Traditionally on this holiday we read the book of Kohelet. The author of this book retells his investigation of the meaning of life and the best way to live your life. Kohelet proclaims all the actions of humanity to be inherently fleeting, futile, empty, meaningless, temporary, and done in vain. This sentiment is well-said in the most quoted line from Kohelet which reads:
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. (Kohelet 1:9)
Learning that life is senseless seems like a real downer for a holiday of happiness. This juxtaposition is only highlighted in that we read this just after Yom Kippur, a day during which we appealed that mercy would win out over justice. If Kohelet is correct, we will never be able to change. Despite our best efforts to repent and atone, we are stuck and should be judged in light of the fact that will never be able to renew ourselves.
Then it all came together for me.
Kohelet is right; nothing is new under the sun. The difference is that just after Yom Kippur we escape the sun under the shade of the Sukkah. There we find shelter from the harsh judgment of the world. If we spend a serious amount of time practicing being the people we aspire to be, we might be able to achieve it throughout the rest of the year. We see a similar dynamic in the shelter of summer camp. There we are able to immerse ourselves in an Eden of our own design. Is there any greater joy then the promise of a better future?
By now you’ve hopefully eaten a good Rosh Hashana meal, had a meaningful Yom Kippur fast, looked at your watch countless times in services, and found numerous ways to entertain the kids throughout this marathon of Jewish practice. Now its time for some good old-fashioned fun- Sukkot! On Sukkot we literally pitch a tent in which we are supposed to eat and sleep for eight days. If that doesn’t bring up thoughts of Jewish camp, I don’t know what does.
There are two main reasons given for why we are commanded to sleep and eat in the sukkah. One reason is that the sukkah reminds us about the time the Israelites spent wandering in the desert, sleeping in temporary dwellings like sukkot. The sukkah also serves to remind us of the rich, agricultural history of the Israelites. Sukkot is a harvest holiday, and in Ancient Israel the people would build huts similar to sukkot at the edges of the field in order to maximize their work time (and minimize their commute!). On Sukkot we have the chance to give up some of the comforts of heated homes and cushiony beds to live like the Israelites lived. In many cases, this is similar to how the less fortunate, particularly farm workers, live in our country today. Sukkot is the perfect opportunity to discuss the less fortunate among us. More specifically, you can educate yourself and your family on the treatment of farm workers in America to truly bring new meaning to an ancient tradition.
Try this: Build a sukkah and chose one night to both eat and sleep under the stars. Make one of the tasty recipes below, bring out some sleeping bags, ask your kids to teach you a few camp songs, and have a dialogue about the treatment of farm workers in this country and how it relates Sukkot and to you and your family.
For midnight snack…
Homemade Cheese Crackers
Makes about 30 crackers
4 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cups whole grain spelt flour or while whole wheat flour
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon onion or garlic powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons milk, plus more for brushing
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
- Combine the cheese, butter, flours, onion or garlic powder, salt and 2 tablespoons of milk into the bowl of a food processor or mixer. Pulse or mix until the dough forms a ball.
- Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface. Roll it out until it is a square about 1/8 of an inch thick (or a bit thinner). Brush the dough with additional milk.
- Using a pizza wheel or knife, cut the dough into 30 squares. Using a toothpick, prick a hole in the center of each square.
- Place the squares on the baking sheets, leaving about ½ an inch between crackers.
- Bake about 15 minutes until the crackers are just slightly brown around the edges.
- Remove from the oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.
1 ½ cups skim or 1% milk
½ cup quinoa
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons amber agave nectar
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup dried fruit and nuts
- Bring milk to a boil over medium high heat- be careful not to let it boil over!
- Add the quinoa the salt, stir once, cover and turn the heat down to very low.
- Simmer about 15 minutes until most of the liquid is absorbed, then stir in the remaining ingredients and re-cover for 1 minute.
- Serve hot or put in refrigerator for up to 1 week and reheat.
Shanah Tova from the Ranch Camp! We wish your family a year full of happiness, health, and fulfillment.
The High Holiday season is a like a spa for the soul. Each year we are given the opportunity for rest, reflection, and renewal and if we seize this opportunity wholeheartedly, we can achieve a true sense of cleansing, empowerment, and renewed purpose.
In thinking about my past year and the year that awaits us, we are bombarded by imagery of both personal and professional triumphs and challenges. We think about all the wonderful relationships that we have been able to maintain over the year and all the new friendships that we’ve begun to cultivate with parents, campers, staff and alumni. Camp is really about Kehillah (community) and the many facets that this word embodies. Our role as directors of Ranch Camp, at its essence, is really about relationships and community. It is incredibly important to us not to serve to our constituents but to work together with them as partners. It is only through partnership that we feel like camp can truly have a meaningful and lasting impact, one built on trust and respect, which carries on from the summer into the rest of the year. We are grateful for the trust that our families have all placed in us in the last year that has enabled us to run a successful camping program and carry Ranch Camp through its 60th year of operation.
It’s hard to believe how close we were to losing our beloved camp this year to the Black Forest Fire. It was a humbling experience to have to evacuate our campers, staff, and animals from camp in June and not know if were going to be able to return. But sometimes it takes events like this to refocus on the big picture of what really matters in life. We know that it certainly did for us. Now that we’ve been faced with losing everything, we know with utmost certainty that the only things of value in life are the intangible things that you cannot take with you in a suitcase – memories, relationships, and love.
We think that these lessons learned will serve us well in the next year as we undertake perhaps the biggest adventure our lives – parenthood. We will welcome a baby girl to our family around the first of the calendar year; this is both an exciting and daunting prospect. But as with everything in life, we know that all highs and lows that await us will only help us in our on personal paths towards learning and enlightenment.
AMANDA SAGARIN & ADAM THOMASHOW
When/how/where at camp did you meet?
Adam and I knew each other in high school, as we were both participants in URJ’s NFTY-NE (North American Federation of Temple Youth). I grew up outside of Boston and Adam in Central Massachusetts. However, we were not friends – we had never even had a conversation. The summer after we graduated high school, in 2002, we both worked at URJ Kutz Camp in Warwick, NY (where we had attended as campers in high school students at different times).
Was it love right away?
The very first day we arrived we were waiting for orientation to start and decided to take a walk. By the end of the walk we knew that would become friends. Time at camp unravels differently than in “real life” and after a few weeks our friendship had grown and started taking the direction towards couplehood.
What happened between you when camp ended that summer?
Adam was headed to college in Connecticut and I was taking a semester off, having deferred from a school in Massachusetts. Over a milkshake we decided we would try to have a long-distance relationship. This worked until the spring of our first year in college when we went our separate ways. Several years later, after not seeing or speaking with each other, we reconnected and last summer we were married.
Amanda Sagarin and Adam Thomashow were married in summer 2012. They currently live in Washington, DC where she is a social worker interested in systems-level change around breaking cycles of poverty and the empowerment of girls and women. He is completing his education while deciding between several different types of technology to work within.
I can’t stop thinking about Jordana Horn’s recent post about her son who came home from camp early. I don’t know what camp he attended, what he did to make sure he was sent home, or any of the other circumstances, yet I feel that we failed him. We – the community of camps and the partnership of camps and parents – failed to give him the best possible experience. And that’s a shame.
Certainly, there are youngsters who are not “camp kids.” These are the ones who, for whatever reason, just can’t be in the 24/7 camp environment with its noise, lack of privacy, and outdoorsy living. And, of course, there are the “lifers” who would spend every minute in camp if given the opportunity. (A few parents asked this summer if we would open a camp boarding school, so their children could spend all year with us!)
Just like most things in life, however, most kids are in the middle. Especially in their first summer at camp, most kids enter with some trepidation and are able to soar once something “clicks.” That can happen through a friendship, a connection with a staff member, a particular activity, or locating a quiet place under a special tree. Sometimes it’s easy to find and, other times, it takes some help from the staff. And in some situations, we call the parents in for help. If we do our jobs right, we get everyone involved in the right way and at the right time, so we can help make the magic of camp come alive before it’s too late.
Where we so often go wrong – and by “we,” I mean both camp professionals and parents – is that we don’t really listen to the kids. Sometimes, we are so concerned with our own successes that we don’t hear the kid advocating for himself. And we forget that this advocacy is, in and of itself, a success. Finishing camp is not the be all and end all of life experience; it is possible to have a full and rich life without completing a summer of overnight camp. So if a kid goes home from camp, it doesn’t have to be a failure or a loss; in fact, it can be just the opposite – it can be an opportunity for learning and for growth. If we push too hard and wait too long, we set our kids up to do what Jordana’s son did – something that they know will get them sent home. And then we, as the adults, get angry. But at that point, whose fault is it? Can we blame a child who has been telling us what he really needs for doing something to make this clear when we just won’t listen? Wouldn’t we better off thanking him for knowing his limits and showing him that, sometimes, kids can know better than adults?
One of my favorite songs on the high holidays says: “Return again, return again, return to the land of your soul. Return to who you are, return to what you are, return to where you are born and reborn and reborn.” For tens of thousands of kids each summer, Jewish camp is the land of their soul – it is the place where they can most be themselves. With so many camps to choose from, I believe that there is the “right” camp for virtually every kid. Sometimes it takes a little bit of work to find it, but it’s there. And in the cases when a particular camp doesn’t fit – or camping in general just isn’t right – it’s up to us, as the adults, to help the child return home so he can return to himself, return to the strength and support of his family, and be reborn as (or, at least, reminded of!) the amazing person he is.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (and whatever comes next) aren’t the culprit. At least not by themselves. Like any situation, parents and guardians are responsible to monitor the playground their children are in: in this case the virtual world of social media. The interaction between counselor and camper doesn’t need to vary based on the medium. Parents need to be engaged in their kids’ activities and kids need to know that parents will be observing. If campers and counselors are friends on Facebook, that in of itself isn’t bad. We shouldn’t worry excessively over one connection versus another without reason. The relationship and bond forged between camper and counselor is unique and important – platforms like Facebook are new meeting grounds and we have to learn how to live with them, adapt them to our rules, and monitor them.
Some camper-counselor bunk relationships are important and influential. The camper-counselor bond is important and can be akin to a big brother or a mentor when one doesn’t exist for the camper. Personally, I’m proud of the decades-long interaction which has grown between campers of mine and me, augmented by the use of technology including Facebook.
As a counselor I had some bunks, and was a camper in some bunks, that were legendary. Why should a connection like that be forced to end simply because of the fear of Facebook? Both the camper and the counselor choosing to connect through social media should know and accept that their interactions may, and will be, monitored by responsible adults. If a parent reads or sees postings that give cause for alarm or suspicion (inappropriate material, suggestive pictures, language) then it should be cause to react. As a parent you will know when the relationship is inappropriate. But to forbid it simply because “bad stuff happens in Facebook” is just naive. It’s akin to worrying about all the bad men on the sex offender registry but ignoring the fact that 90% of abuse is caused by someone the child knows – the fear is displaced. Rather than run from it, embrace the technology and take ownership of it.
It’s also possible that having campers “following” them will cause counselors to behave better online as well knowing that kids are watching. Imagine if the fact that a counselor has camper friends results in the counselor not posting pictures of her drunken spring break theatrics or profanity ladened posts about his friends?
So when should the Facebook/Instagram/Twitter relationship be pulled? If either the counselor or camper starts to demand too much; if one side, especially the counselor, begins to act inappropriate or suggest age inappropriate activities and relationships; if one starts to act as a jealous or envious girl/boyfriend. You will know it when you see it. And when you see it, you need to do something about it. That’s when parents should be notifying camp directors, peers should be telling each other it’s not appropriate and ultimately when directors make the tough decision to not rehire because that staffer just doesn’t have good judgment.
We use a good rule of thumb in our work at Baltimore Child Abuse Center: if the other adult likes your kid more than you like your own kid, that could be cause for alarm. Embrace the new technologies that exist and recognize your campers want to use social media to keep camp going year round. By participating and monitoring the conversation, you become a part of the experience.
Concerned how kids and technology interact? Want to know more about how to talk with your kids and family about being safe, visit our safety pages at www.baltimorechildabusecenter.org/prevent_abuse to learn more.
Adam Rosenberg is the Executive Director at the Baltimore Child Abuse Center.
A couple of years ago I was walking to synagogue with my two boys on the morning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and I wanted to engage them in a discussion about the holiday. At the time Yadid was seven and Yishama was five. To get the ball rolling I simply said, “Another name for Rosh Hashanah is Yom HaDin. So besides celebrating a new year, it is also the time when we reflect on how we might want to improve ourselves in the coming year.” At this point I felt a huge urge to just tell the boys how I wanted them to improve. I know that I am not alone. I want my children to be the best they can be so if I love my children so much, how could I stay silent and not tell them how to improve? It seems so clear to me what they need to change to be the mensches I so desperately what them to become, so of course I should just give them a list, right? I decided that instead of going in that direction, I would shift the conversation and said, “So since today is the day we work on our improving ourselves, let’s start. Tell me what you think I need to be working on to be a better abba (father).”
Wow, what a difference! Not only did they give me amazing feedback that I use until this day, but without any additional prompting they started giving each other feedback. What a blessing to be part of this conversation. Holding back my own voice at this moment created room for us all to grow and improve. I know that this internal voice of the overbearing parent is coming from a good place, but I also know that it does not always get the desired results. So, where did I learn this?
Upon reflection, I realized that I learned this technique as a junior counselor at Jewish overnight camp. It was there in the context of managing a bunk of children that I learned how to create an ideal learning environment. It was there that I learned how I might get more bees with honey then vinegar (another important message for Rosh Hashanah). I also learned the important difference between being authoritarian and authoritative. Seeding power actually creates space for other voices. So years later as a father I knew that suspending my own need to share my love created space for us all to share our love with each other. I cannot say I got it right that year as a JC, but I deeply appreciate the space of camp and what it taught me. Someone else who was more experienced could have done it better, but in the spirit of Jewish camp, they got out of the way to make room for an 18-year-old to find his voice. I in turn learned how to make room for my campers and eventually my own children. Jewish camp is magical. Yesterday’s campers are today’s counselors and tomorrow’s parents. If it was not for camp I am not sure I would have been blessed with the loving, powerful, and thoughtful critique from a five-year old. Jewish camp has cultivated in me the desire, skills, and confidence to be a more accessible and loving parent.
Shanah Tova -May we all be blessed to make more space for more loving voices this year.
A few weeks ago, in a parking lot in Montreal, with hip-hop music blaring from oversized speakers, and lanes delineated for a fleet of buses to pull into, I found myself waiting with 200 or so other parents for my son Jonah to return from sleep-away camp. It was hardly a Norman Rockwell painting, but there was still something timeless about the feelings of anticipation and excitement that were as palpable as the humidity in the August air. Jonah had only been away 10 days but it felt longer. Of course, if I’m being honest, it also felt like it went too fast. It’s always a little surprising how quickly my wife and I are able to adapt to life on our own. Still, we missed the kid and, like everyone else in the parking lot, we could hardly wait for his bus – Senior Boys – to finally arrive.
But we were also, we knew, different from other parents. Jonah, who’s 14, is on the autism spectrum and while we were hopeful he had a good time, first of all, we were even more hopeful he’d gained some new measure of independence at camp. We care a lot less about whether he learned to water ski then whether he learned how to do the simplest things, things other parents take for granted – like learn to eat a new food or maybe just hold a five-minute conversation with a bunkmate. And while most parents with teenagers are trying to find ways to keep their kids closer, hoping, in vain, that they won’t change too much, we’re continually hoping Jonah will come home after being free of our inevitable worrying about him and start pushing us away. We hope he’ll begin to understand it’s his job to change.
In her recent memoir, Next Stop: An Autistic Son Grows Up, Washington D.C. journalist Glen Finland writes about her heroic and poignant efforts to help David, her 21-year-old son on the spectrum, learn how to navigate the city’s subway system and, much more important, learn to be an individual, an adult. But, of course, it’s Finland who has to learn, while writing the memoir, how to be on her own: “After decades of being my intellectually disabled son’s advocate, how could I just shut off my dependency on his dependency on me?”
It was a question I was asking myself as the Senior Boys bus finally arrived in the parking lot and Jonah exited a little shyly. He had a deep suntan and an array of mosquito bites on his arms, legs, and neck. He had a growth spurt this summer and was already taller than me by the time he left for camp, but he seemed to tower over me now. He had the beginnings of a mustache before he left but I could also see whiskers on his chin and a significant accumulation of pimples on his forehead. Jonah can be hard to get information out of at the best of times, but he seemed quieter than usual. And, maybe it was my imagination, but it also seemed like the things he wasn’t telling us were not just things he couldn’t be bothered to tell us, but things he decided not to tell us. He was acting, in other words, just like a teenager.
My wife caught up to the camp director and Jonah’s shadow and they told her that Jonah had a fantastic time. He didn’t make close friends, but the kids at the camp liked him and accepted him on his own terms. He was, my wife was assured, independent, pretty much. Oh yeah, he also tried lasagna and water-skied. Jonah wanted to get home for lunch – definitely not lasagna, we assured him – so we didn’t linger. But then just as my wife and I were driving out of the parking lot, my son realized he did have something important he wanted to tell us, after all. A decision I’m guessing he’d reached on the bus and on his own. “Next year,” he said, “I’m going to camp for the whole summer.”