Sleep away camp

  Oh the summer is almost over and among the many things that our friends' kids did this summer was experience their first sleep away camp.

There are so many articles written about this - about women who run toward the camp with unashamed happiness even in their perilous Manolo's to hug and love that child that they missed more than ever.  About women (yeah I know the Dads get a pass on both the running or not) who may not have time in their lives for the camp visits because after all they sent the little darlings there to not have to parent.  There are articles about the origins of so many Jewish immigrants cramped in sweaty tenement apartments starting the tradition of sending their kids to the fresh air of the Catskills.

For me sleep away camp was not something that anyone I knew did, sure people were sometimes sent to families in Europe for the summer, but actual sleep away camp nope maybe due to immigrant economics, maybe immigrant (non-Jewish) social norms of keeping kids home or even just the we take vacations as a family mentality made it a non-discussion in my neighborhood.  My first taste of it came with movies - like "Little Darlings" - where I too wanted to make out with Matt Dillon, but hey if you were young when he was almost movie he was in you probably wanted to make out with him.  It looked so daring, so foreign to my city girl experience, to the fact that no one I knew actually went to camp so maybe this was an "American" thing that I was missing out on.

I  also knew that I am not the "outdoors" girl.  The idea of sleeping outside in a sleeping bag on the ground, or going to the bathroom in the woods, well that brought heebie bug jeebies and every horror movie that I so loved to go to mind.  No tree was going to get this girl like it did in "Evil Dead".  I did a stint at a sleep away camp as an 18 year old counselor.  No Matt Dillon, though there was a cute boy, lots of rules - did I mention LOTS of rules - and ginormous mosquito bites,  sleeping in a cot (am convinced it had been bought from some sort of detention facility to make it as uncomfortable as possible),  that were bigger than the big hair I was sporting along with my black rubber bracelets and leggings under flouncy skirts.  We were Madonna that year.  I pretty much hated most of the time there and only made it through because I had my 1) boom box and mixed tapes 2) 4 little girls who really needed me and who I grew to love while I took care of 3) one trouble teen who I was assigned to accompany to an abandoned bunk so she could smoke.  I don't hate it as much in retrospect, I learned I could survive in the outdoors but prefer hotels, I learned to turn over a canoe should I flip with it and most of all I learned that I would probably never want to go to camp again.

So fast forward almost 30 years and my sons' friends are starting to go away to sleep away camp.  I miss my kids when I am not with them for a night or two so a few weeks .. yeah not comfortable.  I think of all that can go wrong in those places - pedophile comes to mind, bullies, just plain simple loneliness, not fitting in, not knowing how to do things no their own - the list is endless.  It is my list though and as with anything in motherhood you have to separate your list of fears out from things that just stop your children from being the best they can be.  So with a heavy heart I asked my eldest if he too wanted to try sleep away camp - next year of course (I need at least a year to pretend I am comfortable with it) - and he, who is his mother's son in so many ways, responded " umm have you seen the bunks? those beds look uncomfortable and there is no a.c. oh and you shower in the same place as other people...yeah no thanks".  Phew I thought but then as I always do I did present a more balanced picture one of the good things I heard and saw for myself at camp. A special bond that forms among these campers without their parents around, the independence they gain, the songs and games they play and remember even as adults and most of all a taste of what it is like to be without mom and dad.  Don't go I thought but presented these in a calm way and he still said no thanks.

Who knows my second child of the "i do by self" when he was a little over 1 to now may be that more independent spirit - for now he too has no real interest.  Maybe in a few years when they are older they may want a few weeks among their peers to try things that are different.  Or they may not - they may want to keep vacationing with us until they can vacation away with their friends like I did.

Either way sleep away camp is a big decision for many.  I have realized that while I saw it as something bit cold to send your children away it actually( for the women who I call friends) is a heart-wrenching, encouraging face on, write letters daily and look at the camp website for glimpses at the I hope she/he is happy and missing me and growing up too fast and I hope they love it moments.  It is when they run to the camp with love and do that thing that mothers do so well - encourage something that you kid wants but is not easy for you. I commend you mothers who have kids who loved this, who comforted kids who didn't and helped mothers like me understand the whole camp thing is not leaving me but moving forward. 

Oh and I still want to make out with Matt Dillon 


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