The Gift of a Role Model

My first summer at Jewish camp was back in 1994. In a move a bit out of character, I returned home from Hebrew school one day BEGGING my parents to send me to camp. And while my parents supported this choice, I’m sure there was some hesitation about having a bunch of college students “parent” in their stead for a month.

And I get it. As a new mom, I have a hard time leaving my kid with a babysitter for a night out. But camp?  There’s no question about it. If my kid wants to go, I’ll make it happen. Because when it came down to it, that summer in ’94, and those that followed, affected me in ways my parents never could. Now mom and dad are awesome. They shaped my outlook on the world, gave me a foundation of morals and values to build my own character, and provided me with unwavering love and security – the kind that allows you to take chances, make mistakes, and fly. I would have turned out just fine had I not gone to camp that summer. But no matter how awesome your parents are, some messages are just better received from your peers.

An awkward 12-year-old from Nevada, I arrived at camp in my oversized T-shirt and wispy bangs, Reality Bites soundtrack in hand. I was quiet, accustomed to having the privacy of my own room, and didn’t know a soul in my age group. That first week could have been disastrous. But, surprisingly, I loved it! My counselor (Bethany – are you out there?) was awesome.  She was cool, sooo mature (at the terribly old age of 19), and she got me. Without having to resort  to any sappy pep talk about how lovable I was (thanks anyway mom!), she taught me that being quiet had nothing to do with being confident, friendly, independent, curious, or otherwise. And she did that by just being herself.

Bethany was just one of many role models I gained that summer. Have you ever lived in a room with 12 other girls for a month? There’s nowhere to hide your mood swings, your broken heart, or your childhood stuffed animal you couldn’t part with. And while that initially horrified me, it may be the best part of camp. When there’s no way to hide the personal, embarrassing, emotional parts of you, you have to learn how to let people love you for your whole self. That’s something that I was lucky enough have at home, but a group of strangers? That kind of acceptance and friendship is life-changing. I learned from every single bunkmate I had that summer. They taught me about being courageous, welcoming, and ultimately, they taught me more about myself.

When it was my turn to become a counselor, I took all those lessons with me. And you know what? Knowing that my campers would learn from the example that I was setting, forced me to reevaluate, once again, the person I wanted to be. After all, if I’m not willing to face my fear of the lake, how could I expect that of them? No matter how old I got, camp continued to help me become the best version of myself. It was one of the greatest gifts my parents ever gave me.

So yes, if my kid comes home one day begging to go to Jewish summer camp, my answer will be a resounding “Of course!!” But he’s just turning 1. So he’s got a while before I let go. In the meantime, I think I’ll get him this play set.

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