The High Holidays have ended, the leaves are changing, and it’s time to think about… summer camp. Really. Overnight summer camp registration has officially begun for many camps where I live in the Southeast.
Full disclosure: I was a YMCA overnight camp drop out. I didn’t “get” sleepaway camp—the cheers, the forced camaraderie, the giant spiders lurking in the showers. My parents spent years shipping me all over Pennsylvania and upstate New York trying to find the right “fit” before they realized that camp wasn’t the problem. I was. My mother finally gave up on me and sent me to “themed” day camps near my home.
In 2nd and 3rd grade, my daughter Hannah’s friends started leaving for 10-day or two-week sessions at many Jewish overnight camps. I wanted—needed—her to go but she would have nothing to do with it. Nothing. I felt a lot of social pressure on me to send her away to camp and Hannah’s unwillingness to go demonstrated that I was lacking something as a parent. My friends were making last minute trips to Target and labeling clothes; Hannah was resolutely packing her lunch every morning and attending day camp at the local JCC. I tried bribing and cajoling Hannah to join her friends at overnight camp. She wouldn’t budge.
Hannah was happy at home, happy going to camp at the JCC and happy being on the JCC’s summer swim team. She didn’t see any need, nor did she have any desire to go away to camp.
After a year or two of fighting over camp, I was done. When I’m really honest with myself I thought there was something “wrong” with Hannah—that she was falling behind her peers and it reflected badly on me. I stopped discussing overnight camp with her and quietly decided that if she ever wanted to go to overnight camp in the future, she’d have to beg.
And then a dear family friend, Rebecca, entered the picture. Two years older than Hannah, she had tried a traditional four-week Jewish overnight camp and it was “fine” but nothing special. Her parents decided that for about $4,000, “fine” didn’t earn her a repeat year. So she dabbled in other (non-Jewish) camps but nothing fit. For a very reduced price, Rebecca’s parents sent her in the summer of 2010 to a new Jewish overnight camp that had just opened in Greensboro, North Carolina on the campus of the American Hebrew Academy—Six Points Sports Academy.
Rebecca came home in love with camp and all things Six Points. She’s not a star athlete but it didn’t matter. She had found her camp. Her people. Her songs, friends, and traditions. Rebecca’s love affair with Six Points carried her into her second summer there (she’s now a counselor), and she came home even more in love with camp.
Hannah observed Rebecca’s love for Six Points and began nagging me about going. I ignored her, figuring she’d have to really work hard to earn the right to go. A few weeks after steadily nudging, she stomped into the kitchen and handed me my laptop. She demanded, “Register me for Six Points. NOW.” OK. There’s the determination I had been looking for.
I think parents have to be honest with ourselves about who our kids are and what fits their personality. The “traditional” model of Jewish overnight camp has served many kids very well. But not all kids fit in. Do we squeeze these round pegs into square holes, or do we accept their differences, understand that not every camp is right for every kid, and figure out where might be a better fit? Instead of pushing, sometimes waiting, or exploring, is a better option. Where our children go to camp (or college) is not a measure of who we are as parents. It’s how they build their lives.
And Hannah? After three summers at Six Points, she’s now applying to be a Counselor In Training there, so I’d say we found a pretty good fit.