Maybe healthy eating has been a struggle between you and your kids this year, or maybe they are happy to chow down on roasted broccoli, whole wheat pasta and grilled chicken. Either way, once the kids head off to camp you will no longer be able to guide them towards making healthy choices at meal and snack times. Camp is a time for kids to enjoy and let loose a little, but it’s also a time for them to assume some responsibility and assert some of that beautiful independence that is fighting to be set free. So, with that in mind, think about sharing these tips for healthy eating at camp with your camper (perhaps while you munch on the fabulous granola bar recipe below).
- When able, choose fruits, low fat milk, and whole grain cereals at breakfast. Try to avoid juice and sugary cereals.
- If there is a salad bar, have a green salad with lots of vegetables at lunch and dinner.
- If you get canteen on a daily basis or if you have snack food in your cabin, try to limit yourself to 1 item of junk food a day and try to avoid sugary drinks like soda, juices, sports drinks and iced teas.
- Try to be aware of how much you are eating and stop when you are full. If you rate how full you are on a scale of 1-5, and 1 is still hungry and 5 is OVER full, you should stop at a 3.
- If chicken has skin on in, remove before eating.
- Try to have fruit as a dessert or snack when and if you can.
- Try to have some protein with every meal. Foods high in protein are: Greek yogurt, eggs, tofu, beans, meat, chicken and fish.
- When possible, choose whole wheat bread over white bread.
- Only drink water at meals.
- Eating isn’t a race! Remember to eat slowly so you can appreciate and digest your food.
Sweet n’ Nutty Granola Bars
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
2/3 cup chopped dried apricots
1/3 cup chopped pistachios
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 325°F. Line an 8-by-11-inch pan with parchment paper. Whisk egg, egg white, sugar, oil, cinnamon, ginger salt and vanilla in a large bowl. Stir in oats, pistachios, apricots and flour. Spread in prepared pan. Bake until golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool; cut into 15 bars with a lightly oiled knife.
Throughout the school year, my daughter’s Instagram feed is filled with posts from friends - “#campzipcode is my home,” “100 days until I’m HOME” and “meet me at HOME #campzipcode.” And it makes sense – as a parent, you probably spent hours picking out the perfect camp for your family. You talked to the directors and other families and probably most importantly, made sure the camp values matched that of your own. Camp is a place where we send our children to build their identity, create memories and friendships. When I see these posts and hear that my kids feel that camp is their second home, it is almost like they are giving me a blue ribbon that says “Job well done, Mom, you picked the right place for me!”
There has been a lot of camp talk in the media lately that, honestly, makes me cringe and want to look away. Recently the NY Times ran a piece about care packages and of course, there’s that piece about visiting day whose name I can’t even bring myself to type.
If kids see camp as their second home, why can’t we – as parents – respect that and not try to undo what camps try so hard to create? Why do visiting day and care packages become a way to outdo each other? Why do we feel the need to break all the rules, and win our kids love with the biggest candy tower? Are these the values we are looking to instill in our children – score more goals than the kid next to you, I hope you get more turns on the pottery wheel and your clay bowls are bigger than the kid in the bunk above you?
If another kid came into our home and behaved the way we do when it comes to camp – I can only imagine what would ensue. We have all asked our children not to bring ‘that kid’ home after school. In my house – like most homes – we set rules and expect our children and their friends to abide by them. We don’t have many rules (I am on the verge of teenagers so I am sure they are coming) – be kind, be inclusive, be honest, don’t eat chocolate on the couch, get your homework done before Oovoo-ing with your friends… Yet, when a camp sets similar reasonable rules we set the example for our children by hollowing out deodorant bottles as a hiding place for candy. OMG – there is a gummy bear emergency in Bunk Aleph! Think about the position you are putting your child in when they find the hidden candy or even worse, a hidden cellphone in a sock. They need to “hide the contraband” from the counselors they are supposed to respect and look up to and ask their friends to keep secrets.
We will never stop running towards our kids on visiting day. When we scope out places for our tents and blankets on Visiting Day do we put cracks in the community that our children created? Do we need to cover their beds in candy towers, Rice Krispie ice cream cones and dozens of Sprinkles cupcakes? At camp we encourage kids to discover new parts to themselves and make new connections. Why can’t that apply to their relationship with their parents too? It need not be about the loot. The kids just want us. Our full attention – so they can show off their favorite places in camp, introduce us to 200 of their new best friends and tell the stories that make this magical place of camp, their second home.
When parents hide cellphones in socks and balloons in between the pages of magazines trying to get around the flat care package only rule, they are taking the staff (remember the staff – you asked a million questions on how they are trained, where they come from etc) away from doing what they are supposed to be doing – creating a community, facilitating learning, cheering on your child as they accomplish something new.
This is their other home, and the camp directors set the rules – we expect the kids to follow all the ones at camp, not just the ones they like, right? Like at home, the rules are there to keep them safe and happy. Camps directors spend hours analyzing camper photographers, deciding if they should allow packages or determining how to communicate with parents. The sooner we learn to respect those rules and decisions, the sooner we can expect to enjoy some of the magic from our campers summer homes to seep into our own.
This summer my plan is to start writing a book with the working title God Laughs: How Judaism Ruined My Life. I recently received a grant to proceed with the project, but the idea is still a little vague as is my plan for its eventual execution. I like the title though – taken from the famous Yiddish proverb, “Man plans and God laughs” – and I especially like the subtitle, though I can see it getting me into trouble down the road. Also, in thinking about what to write, I keep coming back to a recurring theme in my life or, as I prefer to call it, a running gag – my ambivalence about being Jewish.
A quality, incidentally, I do not share with my 14-year-old son, Jonah. This probably shouldn’t be surprising. Jonah has autism and ambivalence is not really something he’s wired for. He lives in a predominantly black-and-white world and is inclined to take things literally. And while, lately, he’s become more interested in complicated, existential issues like what happens to us after we die and why does time only move forward, I couldn’t even guess if he believes in God in the conventional sense. Then again, I doubt he’s plagued by doubts about how Jewish he is or feels. He’s Jewish, mainly because his mother and I told him so. A reason, let’s face it, that has been good enough for countless generations of Jews before both of us.
Still, I’ve never seen Jonah quite so focused as when he’s following along with the reading from the Haggadah at family Seders. Or, last year, when he just about flawlessly delivered the long, difficult Hebrew passages in his bar mitzvah portion. Jonah has also participated in the Friendship Circle since he was a kid. Friendship Circle is a branch of the Chabad movement, with chapters across North America as well as in countries like Australia, France, England, South Africa and Israel. Its mission is to provide friendship and foster acceptance for kids with special needs by matching them up with volunteer teenagers. (It also fosters much-needed respite for the parents of kids with special needs.) Jonah is right at home whenever he shows up at the Friendship Circle for an event or a simple get-together. In June, he participated in the Montreal chapter’s annual and rather extravagant fundraiser. It was a talent show this year and Jonah was one of the featured acts. He was a hit singing and playing “Hey Jude” on his guitar. I’m guessing the Friendship Circle organizers aren’t big Beatles fans but I hope they noticed that the lyrics he sang perfectly summed up what their organization is so open-heartedly dedicated to doing. Simply put, to “take a sad song and make it better.”
The B’nai Brith sleep-away camp Jonah attended last year and will go to again this year is obliged to have a more ecumenical approach than the Friendship Circle as it has to cater to a wide spectrum of Jewish beliefs. It’s not specifically orthodox or reform or conservative. This is one of the issues that can be tricky to deal with, the camp director Josh Pepin admitted to me recently. He and his staff will have to weigh how much religious instruction is too much; and how much is too little. Whatever they decide on I suspect Jonah will greet it with his unique brand of matter-of-fact spirituality, one I often find myself envying. He will enthusiastically participate in Friday Shabbat dinners and Saturday morning services. When the Israeli flag is raised he will sing the Hatikvah loud as he can. He will spend his summer living Jewishly. “Jewish identity is paramount at our camp,” Pepin told me. “Our job is to create Jews.” With Jonah, they already have one. With me too, for that matter, though I’ll spend this summer – as I’ve spent most of my life – wondering what being a Jew means to me. I’ll also probably have to figure out a way to explain my book’s subtitle to whoever I end up telling about my book. I’ll have to point out that when I say Judaism ruined my life, I’m just joking. Well, half-joking anyway.
Hi Readers! Here’s the sign a nature center director is about to take down from the local preserve where, for the record, there are no cliffs, no plunging ravines, no standing water, no wild animals beyond the usual squirrel-type thing, no snakes, and no evil trees. There IS some poison ivy. Anyway, as he put it, “It is really a welcoming sign, isn’t it?”
The great thing about camp? There’s “caution,” of course, but it’s not extreme in the face of non-extreme, day-to-day, child-and-nature encounters.
And a tank battalion, when possible.
T-minus three days until my camp staff arrive. Ten days until our teens arrive. Nine months ago I was shrugging in confusion that the summer was over and I had no idea where it went. Now, I’m in complete “denial” that it’s all happening again … or so I thought.
Let me explain. I have previously shared about the 10 months in between the end of a camp season and the start of a new one. Much of what I shared was about the fullness you feel by the amount of work there is to be done. And the satisfaction you feel when it is all over and the message is of success. But now, here I am only days away from my favorite time in my year, more so in my career cycle, and I’m floating in what feels like a state of complete and utter denial.
What is it that I’m in denial of? This is the interesting part. Every day for the past 2 weeks colleagues and friends have asked, “How are you feeling?” “When does camp start?” “Are you ready?” Many of these questions evoke mild feelings of anxiety but more so the response, “I’m good, just in a state of denial.”
Is it really denial? I had to do myself a favor and look up the proper (Wikipedia) definition of denial, because all I kept hearing in my head was… “Whoever denied it supplied it” (thank you, camp, for that one!). Anyway, when I looked up the word “deny” and saw its actual definition; asserting that a statement or allegation is not true, this did not help to clarify the feelings I have been facing. The definition continued; a psychological defense mechanism postulated by Sigmund Freud, in which a person is faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and rejects it instead. This definition is a bit more relatable but not quite. Then I thought about a word my college girls and I used to toss around when describing the end of our Lehigh days and the start of our “real lives.” NERVITED- the feeling of being nervous and excited.
It was as if the fog cleared for me. I’m not in denial about the culmination of a years worth of work coming to its climax, I’m nervited about it. I’m not feeling like I want to reject all the staff and teens that are headed my way in a couple of days; I’m nervited about how they will receive each other, our camp program and me. I’m not too uncomfortable leaving the regularity of my day to day New York City life behind; I’m nervited about the changes this will bring. I am nervous about the unknown. I am excited by the unknown. I am crystal clear that I am not one to deny… but always one to take the challenge head on.
This feeling of nervited-ness is a common one. It’s one I talk to parents, families, teens and staff about regularly. It’s a changing feeling that flutters through your belly and radiates through your face. To all who prepare to embark on new experiences, engage in new relationships and try something out of the ordinary, the best advice I can give you is don’t deny the nervousness and excitement of it all, embrace it. To be nervited gives you a whole lot to look forward to! Summer of 2013, I’m ready for you … now get here.
Camp is almost here. As you pack the duffel bags, label the underwear, and organize the toiletries you have to remind the kids that camp hasn’t yet started and that they need to continue to do their school work…you must be tired! Your kids, on the other hand, have never had more energy. You want to plan a festive meal to give them an extra warm memory of home (even though they will likely forget all about you the minute they find their bunk bed and hug their best friend from last summer), but you just don’t know if you have the energy for it!
This scenario can be replaced with any of a hundred others at any time during the year. Meetings, sports games, activities, errands, play dates, doctor’s appointments and more seem to crowd our calendars, and often healthy food is one of the casualties. Instead of dinners full of whole grains, lean protein and ample fresh veggies, many of us opt for convenience foods like frozen meals and fast food. I promise- life doesn’t have to be this way! Take a look at some of these tips for quick, healthy cooking and try out the recipe below for a delicious meal that promises tasty, easy and healthy leftovers.
- Look for one pot meals and recipes
- Purchase pre-prepped veggies- the extra cost is worth your time!
- Purchase frozen veggies to use in soups and casseroles- they have just as much, if not more, nutrition as fresh veggies
- Raid the salad bar to make a salad for your family
- Train yourself to have better knife skills
- Prepare things according to the time it takes to cook them- start the foods that take the longest first!
- Purchase and cook foods with other meals in mind- cook chicken once for two different meals
- Use a crock pot
- Use recipes with fewer ingredients
- Pre-read the recipe
- Keep food in the house! Chicken and meat in the freezer and a stocked pantry mean less trips to the store
- Get older kids to help
Black Bean Edamame Pasta Salad
8 ounces soba noodles
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp teriyaki sauce
1 tbsp canola oil
1 tsp dark sesame oil
¼-½ tsp sriracha sauce or other Southeast Asia chili sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 garlic clove
1 x 1 inch piece ginger
¼ tsp kosher salt
1 can black beans
1 bunch scallions
1 ½ cups sugar snap peas
1 small head bok choy
1 red pepper
1 cup frozen edamame
- Boil the water for the soba noodles and cook them according to the package instructions
- Whisk the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, teriyaki sauce, canola oil, sesame oil, Sriracha sauce and brown sugar in the bottom of a large mixing bowl
- Mince the garlic and ginger together on the cutting board with the kosher salt until they release their juices and form a paste
- Whisk this into the soy sauce dressing at the bottom of the bowl
- Drain and rinse the black beans and partially mash them with a fork
- Thinly slice the scallions and add them to the mixture. Set aside
- Remove the ends from the snap peas and cut them in half
- Thinly slice the carrot and bok choy and dice the red pepper
- Spray a large sauté pan with cooking spray and sauté the sugar snap peas, bok choy, carrots, red pepper and edamame over high heat until the leafy parts of the bok choy are just wilted and the rest of the vegetables are still crispy
- Add the vegetables to the noodles and serve while still warm, or refrigerate and eat cold
I remember being a little kid, maybe four or five, when my dad sat me down with a workbook and began teaching me to read Hebrew. He didn’t know what any of the words meant, but he could read it and teach me to read it as well. I also remember it seeming really important to him. In fact, being so young, I think that Hebrew workbook is my earliest memory of homework. I don’t remember enjoying it one bit.
When I was in fourth grade, a Jewish day school opened in my neighborhood in Memphis. My parents transferred me there but my Hebrew comprehension was non-existent. I only knew how to read, but not how to understand. I was behind most of the other students…I struggled. And, again, I didn’t enjoy learning the language.
Then came the summer before sixth grade. My parents sent me to Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, a sleepaway camp in the northwoods of Wisconsin. A camp where all the public announcements were in Hebrew. Where all the singing in the dining hall was in Hebrew. Where all the prayer services (and there were lots of these at Camp Ramah) were in Hebrew. And, most importantly, where all the musical theater performances were in Hebrew, too. I had already been bitten by the acting bug in my local community children’s theater in Memphis. So in my second summer in camp, when I had the opportunity to audition for a part in the musical (Free to Be You And Me) I was so excited! But Hebrew? I could read it, I could memorize my lines, but I still wouldn’t know what they meant. I was doomed. Until I wasn’t. Until I started learning my lines for more than just how to pronounce them, but for the meaning behind them. I got a solo song that summer. Singing, in Hebrew, alone in front of 600 people. The song? “It’s All Right To Cry.” And you know what? I did. The entire time I sang it. Cried. But I made it through.
And the next few summers I got to play Fagan in Oliver! and Kenickie in Grease and Berger in Hair. All in Hebrew. That’s when I really started learning the language. I was understanding Hebrew! Then I went to Israel on Ramah Seminar in the summer of 1998. And I was able to ask Israelis how much things cost, what time it was, and, most importantly, where the sherutim (restrooms) were. It was an amazing summer.
Fast forward to the summer of 2005. My family went on a trip to Israel – and it was my father’s first time there. Seeing my father see Israel for the first time was pretty special. Seeing my father watch as I navigated us around Israel, showing off my Hebrew? Priceless. I owe my Hebrew skills (which are still improving) to my father for teaching me how to read and Camp Ramah in Wisconsin for teaching me how to understand. I couldn’t be more grateful to both. Todah Rabbah!
I was nine years old my first summer at camp. When I came home, my mother (who had never been a camper herself) unzipped my duffel bag and was shocked — everything was wet, smelly, covered with sand, and starting to turn a little green. The next summer, as we packed for what I knew would be the best three weeks of the year, she sat me down and told me that I should remember three things while I was away: have fun, don’t do anything stupid, and, most importantly, don’t mix wet with dry. When I went to college, she put a note in my bag telling me how proud she was of me and reminding me of these same three rules. For my family, these have become shorthand for how to take care of yourself.
Over the past few weeks, there have been blog posts sprouting up about preparing for camp. Certainly there are clothes to buy, envelopes to address, bags to pack. In the midst of all these logistics, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s really important — preparing your kids for an experience of growth and self-exploration. As a camp director, it’s my job to provide an environment for your kids to thrive and grow; as parents, it’s your job to give them the grounding they need to make this possible. So, here are some things I’ve learned from parents (and campers) along the way that may help you take a break from packing to get your kids really ready for camp…
Don’t forget family traditions! One Friday afternoon, I was running around camp getting ready for Shabbat. I walked through the office and saw a fax coming off the machine for one of our teen campers. I looked over and was perplexed: on the piece of paper were images of two hands. At dinner that night, I handed the paper to the camper and her eyes lit up. “They are my dad’s hands,” she said, as she turned the paper over and put it on her head. “He blesses me every week for Shabbat, and since we’re not together, this is how he can do it.” As the weeks of that summer and many others followed, I always knew that the fax machine would ring just before Shabbat or the FedEx would arrive on Friday morning. And I knew that, even though they were in different places, this father would always bless his daughter for Shabbat.
Kids love being away at camp, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be connected to what’s going on at home. If you bless your child on Friday night, send her the blessing in a note every week. If you read your child a poem every night before he falls asleep, send it on a card for him to post next to his bed. Showing kids that they can be independent but also deeply connected to you is one of the most important parts of sending them away.
Don’t forget to ask for help! A friend sent her oldest child to camp a few years ago with an instruction: when they take your picture for the website, put a thumbs up if you’re doing okay and if something is wrong, leave your hands at your side. This was their way of ensuring that, if something was wrong, the mother would know to call camp to check it out.
On one hand, I love this: a secret code between parent and child that allows them to communicate “in real time” over the summer when we don’t allow phone calls, emails, or texts. On the other hand, I hope that parents will also tell their children: if you’re having a hard time, make sure you to talk to a friend or a counselor. If that person isn’t able to help you feel better, go talk to a group leader or head counselor. (Think of it kind of like asking to speak with a manager when you don’t get the answer you want from customer service.) And if that doesn’t work — go straight to the top. I know that every camp is set up differently and that camp directors are busy people. But I, for one, want to know if a kid is having a tough time so that we can work together to make things better; as camp professionals, we live for these moments when we can help kids overcome challenges.
It’s good that this mother and son had a way to ensure that both had peace of mind during his first summer away. But it’s also important to teach your kid that sometimes she needs to speak up for herself when she’s unhappy. It’s important for kids to know that there are adults, in addition to their parents, they can trust. Camp is a safe place to try this out.
Don’t forget who you are! Camps are fond of saying that they help children to build character. At Camp JRF, we help campers (and staff) understand that they aren’t building who they are — they just need to be who they already are, being sure to live their values and ideals in all they do. Our staff has heard me tell this story many times: I walked by two 12-year-old boys, one of whom was with us for the first time and had, apparently, just made fun of another camper. The other boy, who was with us for his second summer, looked at him and said: “that’s not how we act here.” This boy took pride in our camp culture, but he also took pride in his role as a friend, an ally, and a member of the community.
Before they leave for camp, talk with your kids about values. Remind them of their deepest held values. Discuss what it means to stand up for someone else. Let them know how proud you are of them for remembering to be their best selves, even in moments where it’s challenging.
So as you finish those last minute preparations for this summer, take a moment to remind your kids of who they are as individuals and as part of your family. Remind them of the blessings you share with them, let them know that it’s okay (even more than okay!) to ask for help, and give them the power to stand up for others.
Oh yeah — and don’t forget to tell them not to mix wet with dry.
As you would imagine, the staff at FJC has packed and unpacked a lot of camp trunks – as campers themselves, parents of campers, and of course, as counselors. This is no small task. Parents, I know that over the next few weeks you’ll be packing up your happy campers so I’ve come to offer some help (unfortunately, only via this blog, not literally).
By now, you have picked out your trunks (they may look big now because they’re empty, but just wait) and ordered your name labels. I spend weeks thinking about the piles of clothes hoping that if I wish it hard enough CampMinder or Bunk 1 will figure out a way to pack your bags for you, not just schedule a pick-up. But of course, that never happens.
First and foremost, be organized! If you really knew me, this would make you laugh – really, really hard. I don’t know how to be organized – except when it comes to packing for camp. So, here is the best of my advice and those from my colleagues, wrapped into a nice care package for my fellow parents out there:
- Live the list. I take the camp packing list and create an excel file, then I add all the “must-haves” my kids come home “needing” year after year. If it is your child’s first summer, talk to other camp parents about their kid’s favorite clothing items, games, bunk decorations, etc. that you may not think of or know about. Each camp has certain traditions and “nice-to-haves” that aren’t on the official packing list and some items that may be prohibited at one camp are all-important at another. (For example, my girls love their Crazy Creek chairs and other camps don’t allow them). I also mark down what items I send more of than the list asks for – somehow four bathing suits just doesn’t seem to be enough.
- Read carefully. Make sure you really read the list and the parent handbook before your start packing. Many camps only allow one-piece or tankini bathing suits for girls, or ask for special clothing for Shabbat. Make a note of your camps technology policy and plan accordingly.
- Label! Label! Label! There are a zillion different options out there – sew-in, iron-on, stick-on. Figure out what works best for you (confession – I just use a Sharpie– a black for most things and a silver metallic for dark items). Make sure everything including all shoes, sports equipment, and towels have a name on them. It is shocking that one sneaker can find its way into a Lost & Found bin, or that kids don’t recognize their lacrosse sticks when a camp director holds it up from the front of the dining hall.
- Talk to other parents. Seek out parents and ask about what their kids wear at camp. Many camps are in the mountains or by a lake, making mornings and evenings cool. We have seen many kids wear rain boots and Uggs to breakfast with their sweats and PJ bottoms. Some camps have post-Shabbat dancing with crazy costumes. That doesn’t mean run out and buy stuff – look around your house for fun wigs and crazy t-shirts, they always come in handy. Each camp is different so find out what clothes the campers at your child’s camp wouldn’t leave home without.
- Pack with your child. Make sure they know exactly what is going in the trunk and what isn’t. If there is a favorite item going to camp with them, make sure they know where to find it and drill into their heads that certain things need to come home. Also explain to them what isn’t allowed or if there are rules for certain items (such as electronics) that are going with them.
- Make it easy for everyone. At some camps, the trunks arrive early, counselors unpack for the kids and voila – your kid is ready to go the second they step off the bus. Others, you do the unpacking when you drop your kids off. Either way, a little pre-thought goes a long way. USE ZIPLOCK BAGS. I pack all the socks in one, shorts in others, t-shirts… This way, whoever is doing the unpacking has a little less work to do and nothing is floating around in the trunk. If your child needs a special outfit (Shabbat, banquet, whatever) pack that in a separate, labeled Ziplock bag so they know where to find it.
- Get sock laundry bags. These could be one of the best camp inventions ever. Teach your child to put their socks in a smaller laundry bag and put that right in the camp laundry. Then on laundry day, they are not sorting and pairing up socks with 15 other kids. (Perhaps they will use this extra time to actually write you a letter…)
- Under bed storage. Some camps suggest you bring under-the-bed boxes or plastic drawers. If you send them, pre-pack the boxes how you envision your child using them. I also pre-pack the shower caddy, toiletries, whatever I can. I show my kids what is where and how I packed the extras like soap, shampoo, shoelaces, and sunscreen (again make sure you are protecting the things in the trunk from leaks by using Ziplock bags).
- Batteries. Don’t forget to pack lots of these essential little items – and show your kids how to change the batteries in their flashlights and fans.
- WE WANT COLOR WAR! Pack a shirt in each color of the color war/Maccabiah/Olymics team that the camp has. This way your child doesn’t have to search around when color war breaks (I never had anything green and always ended up on the green team). I send some face paint, bandanas, and mustaches in different colors as well. Party City has a great section with all sorts of fun stuff by color if you want to send some extras.
- Costumes. You may be told to send your child to camp with a costume for a special event but I always also pack a white t-shirt and a Sharpie – instant costume for any occasion.
- Be organized! Organization really starts the day the kids come home from camp. Make a note of what got used and what didn’t. If half the sweatshirts are still folded just how you sent them or the socks are still paired up and white, don’t send as many the following summer. I make note of what I need more or less of and leave it in the trunks so I find it each spring (consider it a love note to yourself).
Well now that I’ve shared some packing wisdom with you, I think it is time to get off my tush and take this advice. Anyone want to come help?
While I enjoy being in the water, backyard swimming pools mostly, I’ve had less success being on it. This is probably attributable to the fact I never went to sleep-away camp as a kid. In fact, when I learned that my son, Jonah, got up on water-skis last summer, albeit briefly, while he was at Camp B’nai Brith in the Laurentians, an hour north of Montreal, I was surprised the apple had fallen so far from the tree. Of course, I blame my camp-free childhood on my parents. I like to think the reason my parents insisted on keeping me around was because I was so much fun, but as a parent myself now, I know that can’t possibly be true. In retrospect, I can see that the reason my parents never sent me to sleep-away camp was because they’d already gone to so much trouble – like so many Jewish families of their era – to move us out of the big city and into the suburbs that they convinced themselves suburbia was nature enough for any kid, theirs included. After all, we had a park down the street, a lawn. There were trees and birds chirping. There was, eventually, a swimming pool in the backyard. To be fair, I agreed with them at the time. I had no desire to be shipped off to camp. Woody Allen once said that he was at two with nature and you can double that for me. Never comfortable in the great outdoors, I still get a little antsy when I am more than a half-hour drive from a shopping mall. The way I looked at it back then was: who needs camp?
Now, I’m thinking I did. Take my ineptitude with water craft, for example, which has plagued me for as long as I can remember and which led to one of the worst fights my wife, Cynthia, and I ever had. Also, one of our first since it happened on our honeymoon. We were staying at a swanky hotel up north, not far from where my son now goes to sleep-away camp, and Cynthia rented a pedal boat for us so we could leisurely make our way around a nearby lake. Once on the water, though, it became apparent that I couldn’t steer the thing. “Really?” Cynthia said. “It’s like driving a bike with training wheels. A six-year-old could do it.” At which point, I grumbled something about having never gone to sleep-away camp and then angrily announced I was going back to the hotel to sit by the pool. A premature announcement, as it turned out, since I had to wait for my wife to steer us back to shore.
We never mentioned the pedal boat incident again. But a few years ago when we had the chance to take a canoe out on the lake near Cynthia’s parents’ cottage it looked like we were headed for another fight. It’s been said that “a true Canadian is someone who can make love in a canoe without tipping it” and by that measure I was barely Canadian at all. As a matter of fact, I was in my late 40’s at the time and had to admit to Cynthia that I’d never stepped foot in a canoe. Coincidentally, the first lesson Cynthia, who attended sleep-away camp all through her girlhood and was also a counselor for several years, had to teach me was that you don’t step into a canoe, at least not the way I was about to do it, like I was stepping onto an elevator. Instead, you stay low, hold onto both sides of the boat, centre yourself, and proceed with extreme caution. Evidently, canoes tip. As it turned out, there were a lot of instructions and I grumbled through all of them. But then a surprising thing happened once I was in the canoe: I stopped grumbling. I loved it. Nature was in evidence everywhere and, for once, it wasn’t bugging me. It was a crisp fall day: the air was light and the leaves were turning. I watched the dragonflies skid over the surface of the water and even spotted a beaver working away at a dam. My wife showed me how to paddle but even that effort felt, well, effortless. It felt like we were defying gravity, gliding across the lake like it was frozen. The experience was at once exhilarating and serene and a little sad, at least for me. For the first time in my life, I found myself wishing I’d gone to sleep-away camp. I also wondered how I might go about asking my son to take me with him this summer when he goes.