Looking back on the past few months, I wouldn’t call it a “cruel summer.” Nor would I call it “the summer of my discontent.” But sending my boys to overnight camp for the first time was a far rockier road than I’d hoped I’d be traveling. The summer ended with me struggling with an odd issue that I’d never anticipated: What do you do when your kid does something wrong…and gets exactly what he wants as a result?
See, there is apparently an unspoken rule of omerta when it comes to unhappiness at camp, which I’m about to break. You are not supposed to admit that your child did not have an “amazing” time at camp. You are not supposed to talk about the fact that the camp called you or emailed you every day. You are supposed to only post the shiny, happy pictures.
Perhaps it was Facebook that misled me. I assumed my experience would follow the progression apparently conformed to by all my friends and their children. After all, all of my friends displayed in photos on their respective Timelines – and every single kid, according to these pictures, has “the time of their life” at camp:
Photo One: “Dropping X off at camp bus; we are going to miss him but he is going to have the time of his life!!!” Photo of child boarding bus with timid, yet anticipatory, smile on his face.
Photo Two: “X is having the time of his life at camp!” Photo of X smiling, arms around new friends-for-life whom he will eventually request as college suitemates his freshman year.
Photo Three: “Reunited, and it feels so good!” Photo of whole family hugging dirty, yet happy-looking X at camp visiting day.
Photo Four: “Cannot believe X actually tried Y!” Photo of X doing something completely brave and out of character for X, like going down a 5,000 foot zipline, cooking a feast by himself for 400 people or para-sailing.
Photo Five: “So glad to have X home – he had the time of his life!” Photo of parents hugging dirtier, yet happy-looking, kid X as he gets off the bus.
I assumed this trajectory would hold true for me and my boys, even though it was at odds with my own experience as a child. I was extremely homesick at camp. I was also told in no uncertain terms by my parents that I would have to suck it up (they may not have used those words) and deal. Which, dear reader, I did.
Despite my own time at camp, though, I was a veritable Pollyanna of Positivity and Propaganda while packing my own boys for camp. I told them over and over how much fun they would have and what a great experience it would be. I convinced even myself.
When the other one of my sons told me as I dropped him off, “PLEASE take me home with you – I won’t use the iPad or the Kinect or the television for three weeks!,” I was upset but didn’t show it. I told him that of course he was nervous, but that everyone was initially, and that he would be fine.
And yet, somehow, he wasn’t.
I got calls home from the camp. Some days he took positive steps forward, other days he took two steps backward. As I told my husband at one point, “This is like all the bad parts of parenting – the stress, the worry, the frustration – and none of the good parts, like the smiles, the satisfaction or the happiness that comes from seeing your kid succeed.”
Finally, when the 10:45 pm Saturday night call came from the camp arranging a phone call with my son the next day, I knew we were nearing a breaking point. I just didn’t know who was going to be the one to break.
We had a talk and I made it clear that I did not want to come and get him, and that he would make it the final week of camp and do well – and be proud of himself for having “made it.” But within hours, he deliberately broke a camp rule in order to get out… and there I was on the highway, driving the two hours to go pick him up and bring him home.
I’m still trying to parse out what lessons were learned. I am having a lot of difficulty stomaching the idea that my son did something wrong deliberately…and as a result, got EXACTLY WHAT HE WANTED, i.e. to come home. The joyful reunion with him was tarred by my having to discipline him (no TV, no Kinect, no iPad, lots of chores).
The trajectory was off. But no one ever talks about the kids who don’t have a great time at camp.
See, no one posts a picture of the happy-yet-sad face a kid makes when he’s thrilled to see you but knows you are deeply disappointed in him. No one tells you what the “takeaway” of such an experience is supposed to be. You have to figure it all out yourself: what went wrong? Was it the choice of camp? Was it the kid’s maturity or lack thereof? Was it some weird alchemy of the kids in the bunk and counselors? Was it something you don’t even know?
Maybe it really is “the time of your life” – in the sense that in life, things do, on occasion, go way off track from how you’d expected them to go. Everyone assumes it will all go right – but who helps you out when things go wrong? Any answers or help, please send them my way.
Like this post? Read more of Jordana’s writing on Kveller.com.
I am sick of hearing about the VMAs and Miley Cyrus. Yup – she got on stage in a latex bikini, twerked with Robin Thicke and stuck her tongue out, a lot. Lady Gaga was wearing a mermaid thong get-up and lots of others dressed, danced and used language in a way we may not want our 11 year olds to replicate. Get over it. They are entertainers – provocateurs – in a world where 15 minutes of fame is now measured in a 6 second Vine. We are parents and this is where some of the hard stuff comes in. Stop the mass whining and start the real discussions.
What did we expect from a show celebrating the art of music videos on a channel that doesn’t even play music videos anymore? As I see it – the whole goal of the show to raise awareness of MTV- and they are going to do that by pushing the envelope, as they do every year. Otherwise we would be writing blog posts about how they have lost their edge and aren’t connected to their core audience (which, by the way, is 18-34 year olds).
Whenever something happens that requires dealing with some tough parenting issues, the blogosphere goes crazy. Sure – the show was rated PG and the content was more risqué than that. To be expected from a channel that isn’t Disney. I watched bits and pieces of the show, and was more embarrassed for myself that I had to Google “twerking” (I was getting it confused with duffnering and couldn’t figure out why twitter was going nuts) than I was for the entertainers. I went to bed feeling every one of my 41 years. My kids didn’t watch, but by 10 am on Monday they had seen plenty of GIFs and YouTube videos that probably were edited to make it worse than the actual performances.
So, while making Rainbow Looms, we had some great conversation last night. We talked about what “sexy” means to a nine year old, how it doesn’t equate to pretty, and what makes it bad and good. That led to talking about what is appropriate behavior for our family (and how short our shorts can be) and who our role models should be. I told them about the counselors that were the first responders and revived Ethan Kadish, those that ran into a burning bunk at Camp Simcha to get the campers out safely. We talked about the firefighters in the thick of it fighting the California Rim Fire. We talked about their counselors, their teachers, their coaches, their Sunday school aides. The people that shared services with them this summer, talked them through getting up on waterskiis for the first time, cheered on their goals and helped them through some friendship issues. Hopefully, when the girls are making decisions, they will look towards these people, not someone dressed up as a teddy bear.
I am not going to point fingers and say that Billy Rae should throw a sweater on his daughter or wire her mouth shut. I wouldn’t want him to come into my house and question the parenting decisions I have made over the years. Miley works hard and has done so her whole life – voice lessons, acting lessons, dance class, working out and probably lots more. She gave up a “regular” childhood so we could plop our kids down in front of a “wholesome” show when we needed to cook dinner or catch and extra few minutes of sleep on a Sunday morning. In essence, we created her. We bought the concert tickets, the t-shirts, the dolls and that damn guitar (that I still can’t figure out how to shut off) with her face plastered on it. Coming of age in a digital world isn’t easy for anyone, let alone a child star. The tools for adoration are instantaneous. When The Beatles hit the stage or Mick Jagger perfected his swagger, there was a clip on the 5:00pm news and a picture in a magazine a month later. Today we turn to social media as quick to love as we are to hate.
As someone who struggles to get up in front of a roomful of colleagues for a formal work presentation, part of me wants to congratulate Miley for having no shame and for having the confidence to get up in front of millions knowing very well that for everyone that is going to love her, many more will pan her.
Online, on TV or in a newspaper, our children are going to see and hear things that are inappropriate. Our children’s own actions, words, grades, tweets, photos and attire will disappoint and hurt us as much as they make us proud. Billy Rae came right out with a tweet supporting his daughter. We all support our children in ways we see fit. Some of us will choose tough love, others will take the “I’m your best friend” route and some will try to fix everything for their children. For me, I can only arm our children with the knowledge and values I think are important. How will they act upon it? I’ll have to follow along on Instagram.
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!
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.