May has set in, spring is in full swing, and my deadline has arrived—it’s that time again—“getting ready for camp” season. In less then two months, two of my three boys will leave for seven weeks of bliss at overnight summer camp.
I absolutely love that my children are headed to camp. I love that my oldest has spent two summers in what he describes as “the only place better then Disney World,” and that my middle son absolutely cannot wait to join his brother at camp.
But there is a piece of me that still wishes they were headed somewhere else.
You see, I loved camp myself. So much of who I am is rooted in who I became at camp. I love my camp friends with an intensity that is unlike other friendships, and I still speak to them daily. But it’s not just the institution of camp that I love—I love my actual camp. And for years, I only envisioned my children going there. Yet, my boys are headed to the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania, not to my “home away from home” in upstate New York.
While a slight piece of me wishes they would sing my camp alma matter or be able to joke with me about a particular place at camp or smile at a long standing tradition, as I watch the excitement build in them as they prepare to leave, I’m getting closer and closer to being totally OK with sending them off to their “home away from home,” and here’s why:
1. Their camp is theirs
So much in life, we “thrust upon our children.” Where we live, where our children go to school, how we spend our free time, what family traditions and religious practices we uphold. For my boys in particular, they live in the town I grew up in, go to the schools I went to, attend the synagogue that I attended, and live in a world that very much mirrors their mother’s childhood.
Yet, camp for them is theirs now. It’s their place that neither Mommy nor Daddy really knows. And it’s the first place that they have as children that is purely their own. I think that’s pretty cool. Had I sent my boys to my camp, they might not have had a place of their own until they left for college or even later on in life.
2. Tradition is tradition
I’ve learned over the past few years that all camps, residential or overnight, are steeped in tradition. And passing on those traditions, regardless of what they are in nature, is the most important aspect. Each summer my camp had a long awaited tradition of Olympic opening ceremonies. At those ceremonies there were toga girls and flags of passed Olympic teams and Olympic march songs that blared from speakers as the excitement of the evening rose.
I always imagined my children experiencing that same Olympic march and then hearing it with me at home and laughing about it—but guess what? They don’t. But they do have their own opening ceremonies, with their own traditions that are steeped in a past history that is becoming the history of my kids. They might not smile about them with me, but they will smile about it together.
3. Frankly, if the shoe fits…
When we decided not to send our sons to my camp—and believe me it wasn’t an easy decision—it was because it wasn’t the right fit for them. They are not me in 1986—they are them, their own personas, 30 years later. So far, the camp we decided on for our kids is the perfect fit for them. It provides them what they need and gives them the outlet they need for camp.
As parents, it’s not always easy, but we do need to put our children’s desires and wants for themselves beyond the ones we want for them. So frankly, there is something to be said about that old saying. In terms of my boys’ camp—the shoe fits them.
4. It is OK to be out a little out of their comfort zone
My husband and I both attended traditionally Jewish summer camps run by Jewish organizations. Much to our disappointment at first, my sons do not. However, they attend a place that still keeps somewhat of a Jewish tradition—it is kosher and they have a Friday night service, but that’s where it stops. Extremely different from the Hebrew dancing and Jewish culture that we spent our summers immersed in.
It isn’t what we as parents anticipated for our boys, and it certainly took us out of our comfort zone, which was a little daunting at first. But now that I see how our oldest still upholds who he is and his religious background even if he isn’t at the kind of Jewish camp like we expected, I feel good about it. It is OK for him, and subsequently, his brothers, to learn to branch away from what is always around them. Getting out of your comfort zone is a life skill. And it’s good for us as parents to learn that lesson as well.
5. A love of camp is a love of camp
Camp is camp. And it is freaking awesome. The fact that my son loves camp as much as I did; the fact that my son wakes up in the dead of winter saying he dreamed of camp; the fact that my son is counting down the minutes until he boards that bus; the fact that my son is bursting with pride about having one of his brothers join him this summer; and the fact that my other sons who haven’t even been yet simply cannot wait to attend camp—well, that in and of itself is all I can ask for. That is a love of camp, no matter what camp it is.
My boys will never shout the same cheers as I did, swim in the same lake, or walk down that tree lined path to the dining hall that holds such a special place in my heart. Those memories of mine will stay completely mine. And their memories will be woven on their own. As this “getting ready for camp” season begins, our family may not share the exact same traditions, but we will share a smile, a laugh, and a few tears, not because of what is different but for what is the same—knowing how much we all anticipate that first day of camp.