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Jul 22 2014

What They Bring Home From Camp

By at 11:48 am

sleeping-boy

The voice mail came in while we were swimming. It was Saturday, the afternoon before Noah’s sleepaway camp ended.

Infirmary. 100.7 fever.

“Do you want to get him tonight or have us keep him here until pickup tomorrow?” the nurse asked.

Easy choice. We zoomed home from the local pool so I could drive the hour west to the mountains.

The trip stretched like taffy because of a homesick letter that had arrived the day before. Noah’s other three letters had been happy, but nothing about “I cried myself to sleep” builds confidence.

Heading south along a two-lane mountain highway before sunset, fueled by coffee and a protein bar, I was ready for a mom rescue.

At the wooded campus, a Hamotzi loud enough to reach the stars shook the dining hall. I climbed to the infirmary, the white wooden stairs peeling and antiseptic.

The counselor led me to Noah on a bottom bunk, his orange sleeping bag, stuffed dog and “Harry Potter” book 7 tangled around him.

“I loved ‘City of Ember,’ he said as I walked in. “Can you get me the next three books?”

He can’t be that sick if he’s asking me to order things.

“How are you?” I asked. “We got a pretty homesick letter from you yesterday.”

“Oh, I sent that by accident,” Noah said. “I meant to send you a different one. I only felt that way for about five minutes.”

Are you kidding? Do you know how much sleep I lost last night over your letter?

“So you’re fine?” I asked. No dramatic rescue needed?

“Yeah, except for my fever.”

“Oh, okay. Great.” But I was all ready for a rescue, sweetie. “So, I guess we should pack up your stuff?”

After we finagled a cabin’s worth of clothes into a duffel bag, Noah’s counselors gathered his bunkmates for a goodbye that morphed quickly into a group hug, all limbs and shrugs.

On the way home, Noah wanted to talk and didn’t want to talk. He felt feverish and nauseous, but camp kept leaking out.

The cadences of his voice were fast and sharp and intense. Camp was the best. He missed it so much he wanted to cry. Israel Day was cool. The counselors were cool. The ropes course was cool. Riding llamas would have been cool, but turned out to be wishful thinking. But he did ride horses and see alpacas.

He spoke in jargon I didn’t understand, mentioned songs I had never learned, talked about friends as if he had known them his whole life.

When we finally got home at dusk, Noah’s sleeping 6-year-old brother had left a stenciled, misspelled note on the floor: “NOAH I HOPE YOU FELL BETTER.” The cat was awake and shook off two weeks of anxious yowling under Noah’s loyal hands.

The next morning unfurled like a movie, the kind of family time you can’t plan, time that could just as easily spill over into sibling fights or boredom. We mapped an upcoming road trip over bagels at the kitchen table, measured on a closet door how much the boys had grown since a year ago. When I asked Sam if he wanted to walk to the farmer’s market, he said, “I don’t want to leave Noah!”

During this Sunday of doing very little, I realized that camp doesn’t only make your child more mature. It touches home with its magic.

Camp reminded us that Noah helps anchor our family. Without him we’re quieter, less reflective, less apt to question.

Camp inspired me to download “Haveinu Shalom Aleichem” and sing its chorus with both boys.

Camp brought home the menschiness of counselors who embody the camp’s values, such as caring (chesed) and community (kehillah).

Camp opened the gates to a new kind of Shabbat, bathed in white, dancing at dusk. The counselors blessed their campers with Yevarechecha, standing in for the parents. Noah led the Mishebeirach in front of the whole camp. This healing prayer is one of his favorites, he said, a wonder since he has never acknowledged paying attention in Sunday school tefilah.

Of course, the giddiness of return does wear off. Five days after Noah’s re-entry, mundanity and daily responsibilities have set in. Practicing piano still holds little appeal, and Noah’s little brother has become annoying again. The camp dust is gone, rinsed out of T-shirts that lay on the cabin floor last week.

But camp is one of the few places that still honors the mysteries of growing up, its secrets beyond the reach of parents to completely understand. And I have faith that the magic is still in him somewhere, just waiting for next year.

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