This summer, Habonim Dror Camp Na’aleh did something unprecedented at Jewish camp – we had a transgender bunk counselor. At Camp Na’aleh we live according to the values of Habonim Dror and the kibbutz movement. Campers and staff at Na’aleh integrate the values of cooperation, equality and activism into their everyday experience at camp. So when I was approached during the past year by Amit Schwalb, a transgender staff member, about shifting his role from garden specialist to bunk counselor, my first instinct was not to ask, “Are we ready to have a transgender staff member living with kids.” It was to ask, “How can we make this happen?”
As camp directors we are faced with difficult decisions on a daily basis. We are consistently put to the test. We hope and pray with each decision we make, that our collective experience doesn’t fail us and we make the right choices. But every now and again we are faced with something new, something we’ve never dealt with before and experience isn’t something we can fall back on. That was where I was as I started to explore honoring Amit’s request.
At Na’aleh we pride ourselves on being an incredibly welcoming community. An inclusive, encouraging, safe environment for children and staff members from all walks of life. We have sporty and non-sporty campers. We have day school kids and non-day school kids. We have campers who have been adopted from other countries and we have both campers and staff who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. Every summer and throughout the year we build this incredible community where no matter who you are, you feel welcome.
Amit has been a camper and staff member at Na’aleh since the summer of 2004. He has been our gan (garden) specialist for the last two summers and in 2012 he fully came out as transgender. When his request to live in a bunk was brought to my attention, I understandably had concerns. Amit’s current position as gan specialist didn’t require him to live with campers as he is part of the technical/specialty staff and not a general bunk counselor. I wondered what limitations there would be in this new arrangement by making a change to living with campers. There were a number of other concerns, but despite any of them, I never once questioned whether our campers and staff would embrace this unprecedented arrangement. Our staff, campers and I respect Amit, trust him, and love him.
Since this was uncharted territory for me, and, as I later discovered, unprecedented in the entire Jewish camp world, I solicited opinions from other camp directors and professionals in the camping field. Some were encouraging, and many raised their own concerns. When I sat down to discuss all my thoughts with Amit, my decision was made easy. I asked him a question: “Why do you want this?” Amit replied with one simple answer, he said that as gan specialist he isn’t able to create the same bonds and connections with campers that the bunk counselors do. He felt as though he was missing out on something in his camp experience. By being a bunk counselor, living with campers, helping them when they are homesick at night, being there to wake them up in the morning, cheering their accomplishments, encouraging something new or just hanging out and playing cards during free time, would give him the opportunity to develop these connections.
This beautiful answer that completely embodies the immense responsibility of being a summer camp counselor made my decision incredibly easy. All my questions that came afterwards were essentially meaningless; we were going to make this happen.
We put together a plan that took into consideration Amit’s comfort, that of the campers and of course, their parents. The plan, an affirmation of our commitment to Amit (and to every member of our community!) was sent to the parents. The response we received was only positive and encouraging, reconfirming that we were moving in the right direction. Amit and his campers had an incredibly rewarding summer. Not only was he able to make stronger connections with the campers in the bunk, but he was also able to be a part of real transformative moments outside the cabin as well. Amit hiked with the campers on their group tiyul (hiking trip) and spent time talking about their home lives and educating them about his. He also got to be a part of some really silly group moments that they all remember fondly. None of these things would have been possible if Amit wasn’t living with these campers and a part of their group this summer.
When I think back now on the process of making this decision, I think it’s really all about trust. I had trust in Amit, and I had trust in our campers, but more importantly I trusted our community. One of the parents said to me in an email response that this was a wonderful example of being able to walk the walk on many of the messages that we discuss in our families and the values we try to teach our kids.
We are all really proud of the fact that Na’aleh is the first Jewish camp to have a transgender staff person living with campers of the same gender they identify with. We are even prouder that we have a community that lives its values to the fullest, even when it may not seem easy at the onset. Beautiful things are capable of happening at a Jewish summer camp, especially when each camp isn’t afraid to live its own values to the fullest.
I sent my two boys to overnight camp for the first time this past summer and am now an Experienced Camp Parent. Okay, I’m just slightly more experienced than I was when I sent in the initial deposit.
I’ve changed as a person due to my kids’ camp experience. I’ve learned that you should always have a dozen Sharpies at hand, and that said Sharpies should be carefully stored out of reach-range of your two year old daughter. On a more substantive level, I’ve learned that I actually don’t want to be a helicopter parent, and want my kids to have fun and meaningful experiences independently of me.
But as Oscar Wilde said, “Experience is the name that we give to our mistakes.” So let me run through a few things I would have done differently as a first-time camp parent, in the hope of sparing you some agony:
1. EXPLAIN EVERYTHING TO YOUR CHILD. Before your child goes to camp, it is absolutely essential to explain everything that you have packed for your child to your child. Take it slowly, step by step: bug repellent is to be sprayed on the skin, not ingested. You may think this little tour is unnecessary. You are wrong.
For a not-hypothetical example, you may think that when you send a bottle in your son’s camp bag that clearly (in the child’s native language), reads, “body wash/shampoo/conditioner,” that you do not need to explain that he is to use that bottle’s contents as soap, shampoo and conditioner. On his body, while water is running in the shower. My unfortunate experience says that you would be wrong.
2. DO NOT IMPUTE MEANING TO YOUR CHILD’S PHOTOS FROM CAMP. We’ve addressed this.
3. BEFORE THEY LEAVE, MAKE YOUR CHILDREN ADDRESS AND STAMP ALL ENVELOPES THEMSELVES.
I know many parents address and stamp envelopes and/or postcards home for their children. In my entirely anecdotal, non-statistical experience, the kids for whom that is done feel that they have invested nothing in the writing experience and were therefore less likely to actually use said stationery.
Jewish tradition has it that it is required for parents to teach their children how to swim. Why is swimming so important? Because in the event that they find themselves in a difficult situation in the water, they will be able to save themselves and perhaps someone else. Similarly, if you teach your child how to do their own work – not do it for them – they will learn from the experience and be able to ‘swim’ themselves.
At the suggestion of a friend, I had my boys address and stamp all their own envelopes. I made my expectations for how often I expected to hear from them quite clear. And they complied, much to my delight. No one was writing voluminously or rapturously like Jane Austen, to be sure, but I still got the amusing communiqués that I sought (“Today was Wilderness Day -we learned how to light a fire with a lighter!”).
4. DO NOT SEND ANYTHING NEW TO CAMP. Well, okay, you’re going to have to buy the sleeping bag and all the camp-required gear. That being said, there is no need to invest in new sneakers prior to camp. I say this as the woman who looked at my son’s feet at the end of camp and said, “What happened to the sneakers we bought the day before you left?” before realizing that holy crap, those awful rags on his feet WERE the sneakers we bought the day before he left.
5. WHEN YOUR KID COMES HOME, HAVE THE FOLLOWING SUPPLIES AT THE READY: Athlete’s foot medicine. Nail clipper. Q-tips. AfterBite/Benadryl.
6. DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, ALLOW YOUR CHILD TO REMOVE HIS/HER SHOES ON THE CAR RIDE HOME FROM CAMP.
“Honey, is there any chance that there might be a dead animal in your duffel bag?” “What? No.” “Are you sure? Because it smells like a rotting corpse in the backseat…OMG PUT YOUR SHOES BACK ON!”
Like this post? Read more of Jordana’s writing on Kveller.com.
Most parents send their kids to camp because they know that kids grow in a different way — faster — when they’re on their own. This is something at odds with the rest of our culture, which is embracing “Bonsai Parenting.”
Over the past few months, the news has brought us stories of a 10-year-old boy not allowed to bring his pen knife on a nature trip as well as the ridiculous rules for adopting a pet that now sometimes include things like, “Pet needs one parent home at all times,” and, “Cat cannot be kept as a mouser in a barn.” One guy wrote to my blog, Free Range Kids, that his home, replete with kids, was rejected by a shelter because it was “too exciting” for a dog.
TOO EXCITING? So it no longer matters how constricted the life of a boy or dog is, so long as it is absolutely SAFE? That is the ULTIMATE goal, for all beloved species?
WRONG WRONG WRONG!
Over and over we are being told that the kinds of things animals and children have done since the dawn of time are suddenly too taxing, difficult and dangerous for this generation. Instead, adults must take care of all their child/pet’s needs and then some. Adults (once background-checked and found absolutely perfect) must keep the kid and/or pet from the fulfillment…excuse me, the DANGER of doing ANYTHING on its own. No mousing for you — I bought you fancy cat food! No whittling for you — I’ll use MY pen knife to cut whatever you need!
That’s not parenting. That’s bonsai.
STUNT THE ONES YOU LOVE!
Our marching orders are to stunt our kids and pets. We’re told to thwart their natural curiosity and desire to be part of the world. But in fact, our job is the opposite. Society is brainwashing us to believe that the world is unsafe immediately outside the door, that any parent not devoting their entire lives to constant child supervision is going to regret it, and that asking anything of anyone other than ourselves is asking for trouble. Only we, the parents, are smart and competent enough to take care of (and take over) our kids’ lives.
So maybe we should adopt the term “Bonsai parenting” instead of “helicoptering.” After all, we’re not instructed to simply hover, we are instructed to keep our loved ones inside and prune their interactions with the big, bad (exciting, demanding) world. Bonsai pets and bonsai kids, kept helpless, dependent and adorable.
As the camp season comes to a close, your camper is returning home with hundreds of amazing memories, an expanded sense of self, a deeper appreciation of Judaism and lots of smelly clothes. Although he likely had an incredible time, he has probably had enough of camp food and is counting the minutes until his first home cooked meal. August seems like an odd time to be discussing comfort food, but when you have a child who has seen too much peanut butter and jelly, frozen fish sticks and questionable spaghetti and meatballs it makes sense to be thinking of making your old, homey classics.
Comfort food is aptly named because of its ability to bring us a sense of calm, happiness and nostalgia. Often, however, comfort food is laden with unnecessary calories and is devoid of vegetables, whole grains or other foods that are comforting to our bodies rather than our souls. If we really want to bring ourselves and our children a full sense of comfort after a summer of bug bites, bug juice and stomach bugs we should meld soul-warming comfort classics with some new, healthy tips and tricks.
Try these “cleaned up” comfort classics to enjoy as a family. Over the meal you can find out what your camper learned about Judaism over the summer and you can share with her the Jewish reason for eating healthy: Shmirat HaGuf, or guarding one’s body because it came from God.
Crispy, Flavorful “Fried” Chicken
1 8-piece chicken cut up chicken, skin removed
2 cups all purpose flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
¼ cup Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 cup quick cooking oats
1 ½ cups crushed cornflakes
1 cup crushed whole-wheat crackers
1 teaspoon smoked or hot paprika
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a 9 x 13 pan with cooking spray.
- On a large plate combine flour, salt and pepper.
- Immediately next to the plate of flour, mix the egg, mustard and vinegar in a shallow bowl.
- Finally, combine the oats, cornflakes, crackers and paprika on a large plate next to the egg mixture.
- Dip the first piece of chicken in the flour and cover it completely and shake off any excess.
- Next, dip the chicken in the egg mixture and let any excess drip off.
- Last, cover the chicken in the crumb mixture and place it in the baking pan.
- Repeat with each piece of chicken, and to avoid breading your fingers, use one hand for dipping in the dry mixtures and the other hand for dipping in the egg.
- Once all of the chicken is coated bake for around 40 minutes, or until done.
- After removing from the oven let the chicken rest for 5-7 minutes to allow the seal in the juices and make sure the crispy coating stays on!
“Tastes like home” Green Bean Casserole
2 teaspoons canola oil
2 lbs green beans, ends removed and cut into 2-inch pieces
½ lb cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
2 cups natural, low fat cream of mushroom soup (ie- Imagine brand in a box)
2 tablespoons low fat sour cream
2 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Heat 1 teaspoon of oil in large non-stick sauté pan and add green beans, mushrooms and 1 onion.
- Cook until the vegetables are browned and fragrant, 7-9 minutes.
- Add garlic and cook 1-2 minutes more.
- Meanwhile, warm soup just to a simmer in a small saucepot, stirring occasionally.
- Melt butter and flour in a separate medium saucepot over medium heat. Whisk constantly, about 5-7 minutes, until the mixture turns a shade darker and begins to smell slightly nutty.
- Pour the soup into the flour and butter mixture, whisking continuously until the mixture begins to bubble and thicken, about 5 minutes.
- Add the sour cream and cook 1-2 minutes more.
- Combine the vegetables with the sauce in a large bowl and pour into a 8 x 8 baking dish.
- Sauté the remaining onion in the remaining oil over high heat until it is crispy and browned.
- Add the breadcrumbs and cook 30 seconds longer, then pour the onion-breadcrumb mixture over the green beans.
- Bake about 30 minutes, until the top is browned and crispy and the liquid is bubbling.
Spinach Artichoke Mac and Cheese
1 lb whole-wheat elbow macaroni
2 tsp canola oil
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
2 cups 1% milk
8 ounces shredded sharp low-fat cheddar cheese
1/3 cup low fat ricotta cheese
½ tsp granulated garlic
1 cup defrosted chopped frozen spinach
1 cup defrosted frozen artichoke hearts
Salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Spray a 9 x 13 pan with cooking spray and set aside
- Bring water to a boil and cook pasta 1-2 minutes shorter than instructions on package
- While water is boiling and pasta is cooking warm milk just to a simmer in a small saucepot, stirring occasionally
- In a separate pot melt butter and flour in a medium saucepot over medium heat. Whisk constantly, about 5-7 minutes, until the mixture turns a shade darker and begins to smell slightly nutty
- Pour the milk into the flour and butter mixture, whisking continuously until the mixture begins to bubble and thicken, about 5 minutes
- Add the cheeses and garlic and continue to cook 1-2 minutes more
- When the pasta is cooked, drain, toss with oil, and set aside
- Roughly chop the artichokes and squeeze out the spinach until very little water comes out
- Mix the cheese sauce with the pasta, sauce and spinach and artichokes in a large bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper
- Pour the pasta into prepared pan and bake 25-30 minutes, until the top is crispy and golden.
When I was a camper a billion years ago, my parents had no idea what was going on at camp while I was there, beyond what I told them in my letters. There were no phone calls home. There was no camp social media director sending out parent bulletins via Facebook and Twitter. And most of all, there were no pictures — except for the ones I chose to take with my crappy little real-film camera, and even those, I had to develop weeks after my return home.
Today’s campers, in contrast, are generally subject to a continuous paparazzi photo shoot. Camp directors send professional photographers out into the camp to take pictures of kids having fun. These pictures are then uploaded to a camp’s website, or Facebook, or some combination thereof. And then, parents of campers can sit at their computers or iPhones, staring slack-jawed at the web browser, hitting ‘refresh’ over and over again so that they can catch a glimpse of their son or daughter.
I am sorry to say that photos indicate nothing whatsoever about the nature of a child’s camp experience, and that I know this from personal experience.
When I sent the boys to camp, I didn’t expect to miss them as much as I did. The idea of photos of their camp experience struck me as appealing as a window, however small, into what they were doing, I thought, and a letter conversation-starter. “Hey – I saw a picture of you holding someone by the legs – was that a color war event or random fun?” I didn’t expect to glean much information from the photos beyond whether it was hot or cold at camp on a given day (though my boys’ wardrobe does not necessarily line up with the weather).
One of my sons – whether because of his red hair or some other reason – turned up in almost 50% of the camp’s photos. Without exaggeration, over the photos taken through the entire summer, there was only one photo in which he was smiling. In the others, he looked exhausted, or spaced out, or preoccupied with whatever preoccupies 8-year-old boys (Minecraft? Lego?). This kid, however, wrote daily letters home that read like advertisements for camp. Laden with exclamation points, the kid’s letters were a five-star, rave review of camp. Even the food got accolades.
My other son appeared in few photos, but in each one was featured prominently sporting a wide smile, flashing peace signs and every sign that he was the proverbial happy camper. I can assure you, sadly, that he was not. Every letter I received from him dwelled unremittingly on his homesickness and how lonely he felt. In his letters, he pleaded for me to pick him up early from camp (which, due to a variety of circumstances I don’t feel comfortable writing about, did end up happening).
In short, pictures may say a thousand words – but those words are not necessarily the truth. Pictures can soothe you with the knowledge that your child is still physically at camp — but they do not tell you the whole story of what is transpiring in your child’s head or heart.
Judaism has long been a religion skeptical of things as they appear on the surface. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks once pointed out that the Hebrew word for garment comes from the same root as the Hebrew word for betrayal. Appearances, in one flash of light or a flashbulb, can deceive. Sometimes, they show you what you want to see. After all, what camp sends its photographers into bunks with night vision cameras to capture campers sniffling with homesickness into their pillows?
Perhaps we’d do best to shut the cameras off – or at least send the pictures out after the fact as opposed to during. Then we might be able to better focus not on how things appear, but on how they really are.
Like this post? Read more of Jordana’s writing on Kveller.com.
A colleague who I trust and admire recently shared with me a New York Times piece she wrote about sending her children to camp. She wondered why it was that her children — one boy and one girl — should have to be separated at camp. They have always shared a room and she was rightfully proud of the connection she and her husband had helped their kids to form. Even though she was committed to the endeavor of summer camp, she couldn’t understand why she would want to put the kids in a situation where they would, by necessity, be separated.
I thought about her post a lot over the weeks after I read it. I kept trying to see if I could get on board with her idea that coed cabins would be ideal for her kids. And I just couldn’t seem to wrap my head around it. I was so impressed by the relationship she described between her kids, but I couldn’t figure out why they couldn’t be apart while at camp.
And then, as so often happens over the long days at camp, I had a moment where it all became clear. I realized that, when siblings come to camp together, they can explore how best to be in a relationship with one another, without having their parents’ influence or input. (I often say that camp is about making kids their best selves. Perhaps it is also about making relationships between siblings and friends the best they can be.) Last Friday morning, our teen campers returned from four weeks in Israel. They got off the bus and, quite literally, ran towards their siblings. After a life changing experience, all they wanted to do was to hug their brothers and sisters. And the next day, when we took sibling and family pictures, we watched kids stand together, help each other comb their hair, and smile for their parents.
We started taking sibling pictures a few years ago because parents wanted to see their kids smiling together. A parent wrote to me the other day that this year’s picture of her kids “made her week.” It’s as if parents don’t believe that their children could really get along as well as the pictures show. But they do get along that well. They do want to see each other. They do want to hang out together. And they do want to share their experiences with each other. Why? Because, at the core, they are family. And we want nothing more than for our kids to feel deeply connected to their family — whether blood relatives or people who are so close that they might as well be part of our family tree. When we send them to camp and separate them from their siblings, we often do so with the desire for them to have an opportunity to be their own person. And that is great. But it’s also great for them to have the opportunity to show who they are in relationship to their siblings in an environment of their peers. Letting kids act this out now will only help them later in life, when they are out in the “real world” interacting with each other. Giving them an opportunity to build a parent-free bond at camp is great training for the future of our families, and of our world.
So do I think we should have sibling bunks? I’m not sure I’m there yet. But do I think it would be great for parents to encourage siblings to strengthen their relationships while at camp? Absolutely!
ALEXANDRA & ERIC SPITZ
When/how/where at camp did you meet?
We attended Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu, CA as kids and met in the Summer of 1993 when Eric was 13 and I was 12. We were camp crushes for two summers in a row.
Was it love right away?
Absolutely! We adored each other even at that young age. We even have a “Shabbat-O-Gram” that Eric had written Alex the first summer we met signed, “I love you, Eric Spitz”
What happened between you when camp ended that summer?
We lived about an hour away from each other but at that age it may as well have been across the country! Needless to say, we lost touch after that last summer of 1994. Fast forward to 2006 when I finally gave in and signed up for a MySpace account. I had always remembered Eric and his infectious smile and fun-loving attitude so I decided to look him up. I was still living in Los Angeles and I discovered that he was living in Miami. We were both in other relationships at the time but it was so nice to catch up over email. A year later, in June of 2007, he emailed me to say he would be in LA for his brother’s wedding the following month. We made a plan to meet for a drink (to be safe!) on Tuesday when he arrived in town. Drinks turned into dinner which turned into many more hours of laughing and catching up. We had both recently broken off the relationships we had been in so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. We spent as much time as possible together over the next five days while he was still in town and by Sunday he had decided that he was going to move back to LA so we could be together. He went back to Miami, organized the move and on September 6th got in his car and drove cross country. We hadn’t seen each other since he had visited in July so we were both taking a huge leap, though it felt completely normal and as if we had been together for many years. We had a connection at 12 and the feelings came back instantly when we saw each other again. We were engaged about 10 months later and got married in May of 2009 at the only venue we could possibly imagine: CAMP!!! We had our close friends and family stay for the weekend and we enjoyed all of the activities camp had to offer. We transformed the camp grounds into a gorgeous, rustic wedding setting and could not be happier with how it turned out!
Will you send your kids to your camp?
There is no question and we cannot wait to! Many of our friends and family members also went to camp…it is a huge part of our lives. We attended our first family camp weekend when our son was 16 months and we can’t wait to do it every year until he is old enough to go on his own.
Eric and Alexandra Spitz currently reside in Orange County, CA with their 2 year old son, Jack and dog Lucy. Eric is an Account Manager for Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. serving the entire Orange County region. Alexandra is a Certified Parent Educator and Certified Newborn Care Specialist and is currently taking care of their son while running her new business, OC Mommy and Me, a program for new moms in Orange County with babies 0-12 months.
Folks — As much as I literally feel my heart pounding every time I hear a story about crazy fear-mongering, or outrageous overreaction to a very small threat, I realize that there is more to life — and even this blog — than just shouting, “But they’re WRONG!” (Even though they are! They’re wrong! I swear they are!)
So today, I’d like to ask you for a story that begins: “Nothing bad happened when my kid…” And then fill in the blank with something your child did, indeed, do that other parents might consider “dangerous.” Or even that YOU , at first, considered dangerous.
Maybe your toddler climbed the jungle gym officially designated, “Age 5 and up.” Maybe your 6-year-old went to the drinking fountain outside the playground gates while you stayed inside with your baby. Maybe your 8-year-old rode her bike to the library, or your middle-schooler met up with friends for pizza at dusk and “forgot” to bring his phone!
In short: Do you have a story that can inspire other parents to dip a toe into the Free-Range world? If so, please include the age of your child and, if possible, answer these questions:
1 – What activity did your child do?
2 – Whose idea was it?
3 – Why did you permit it?
4 – What was the upshot?
5 – Would you and yours do it again?
And if your children would like to write to me themselves, they are, of course, most welcome.
Check out some initial responses here.
I’m a mom of four, soon to be five, kids, after all. I know how to diaper a squirming baby, how to pack a lunch that will get eaten, and how to peel melted cheese off a formerly-lost permission slip. I know how to pack for a week away for a family of six, I know how to order for said children at restaurants so that they will eat the food, and I know how many bathroom stops to make per a given amount of highway mileage.
I did not expect to be so taken aback by my boys’ first experience at overnight camp.
Why, you ask? What have they said that was so shocking?
Granted, they haven’t even been at camp a week. Even if they wrote me letters (which who knows whether or not they have, despite all the envelopes they addressed and stamped before camp), I have yet to receive them. You’d think I’d have considered this before they left, that for a few days at least, I wouldn’t hear from them.
And maybe I did. But there’s a big difference between the abstract and the reality.
My boys are eight and nine. Even though I’m divorced from their dad, I’ve never gone more than a day without speaking to them.
At first, the silence pissed me off – yes, irrationally of course, because we don’t communicate telepathically. But now, as it starts to settle in, I’m thinking that this tiny bit of distance is good for both of us.
Let them be independent for a little bit – or as independent as you can be, when your mom packed your toothbrush and Marvel Avengers’ body wash. There are so many things I, as their mother, want to teach them, but surely one of them should be that it is okay to stand on your own two feet.
I don’t know exactly what they’re up to, or what they’re wearing, or what they’re thinking, but surely that’s a small hint of what the future holds as they set down the long road of growing up. And letting them grow up by letting go (a little!) is, perhaps, the best thing I can do.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m still checking the mailbox. But in my heart, I know they are okay.
Like this post? Read more of Jordana’s writing on Kveller.com.
I’d like to say that my wife, Cynthia, my son, Jonah, and I are enjoying a wide variety of family activities in the last few days before Jonah heads off to sleep away camp. That we’re having picnics on the beach, visiting museums, and attending performances of Shakespeare in the park. But the truth is we’re spending almost every waking moment packing and labeling. These twin chores seem endless. What to send with Jonah and how to make sure the majority of it returns with him has become an all-consuming job.
Jonah’s camp has graciously provided guidelines for what to pack, though they are more helpful in theory than in practice. Twenty pairs of socks, for instance, assumes that your average teenager – Jonah is fourteen – your average human being, for that matter, has ever succeeded in owning twenty pairs of socks that match. Some of the guidelines we are determined to ignore. So while four bathing suits are recommended, we’ll send at least twice that many. Given Jonah’s love of the water, we know he’d sleep in a bathing suit, in the lake, if he could get away with it. Which is to say, who needs to pack all those pajamas? The camp’s list also provides an encouraging glimpse into what Jonah will not get to do (only non-electronic games, i.e. board games); and what he will be expected to do, like regularly attend Friday Shabbat dinners (white tops, modest outfits).
But it’s the requirement to label everything we pack – from toothpaste tubes to flip flops – that is our most time consuming activity these days and also surprisingly expensive. Last year, my wife ordered labels and ended up paying fifty dollars for what turned out to be a rather small and unimpressive packet of personalized stickers. Of course, the cost wouldn’t be so bad if the whole exercise didn’t seem so pointless. Inevitably, Jonah comes home with some other kid’s underwear and a pink My Little Pony tank top.
This summer we have made sure Jonah has a more active role in the packing, in particular. We are wincing but saying nothing whenever he matches striped shirts with checked shorts. We had to speak up, though, when he insisted on taking his iPad. Camp rules, not ours, we informed him. Then we tried, mainly unsuccessfully, to explain to him how to play Monopoly. We are letting him take his old guitar, however. In fact, I have already labeled it. I affixed a small Jonah tag to a place where it is very unlikely to be spotted. With any luck at all, he will not only learn some traditional camp songs, but he will come home with a newer, better guitar.