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Why I Forced My Son to Sleep Over at Jewish Summer Camp

sleep away camp

My boys (ages 10 and 7) have been attending our JCC summer camp for years. The camp includes games, sports, Jewish education, swimming, and weekly field trips. Once you are entering second grade you get to participate in the highly anticipated, extremely fun sleepovers, of which they do two to three each summer.

My older son, Joey, who struggles in certain social situations, has declined to attend every single sleepover for the past four years. He happily goes on the field trips, but asks me to pick him up so that he doesn’t have to sleep over. He prefers his bed, with his things, and his family. He’s slept at Grandma’s house. He loves when we travel to hotels. He just had no interest in sleeping on the floor of the gymnasium, in his sleeping bag, surrounded by his fellow campers. I never pushed him because I didn’t want him to feel uncomfortable. There was no reason to force this issue.

But this year his little brother was eligible for the sleepovers—and he could not wait. Aaron went to the first one, while Joey declined. To quote Aaron as he climbed into my minivan after the experience—“It was amazing!” He couldn’t believe that Joey wouldn’t want a piece of this action.

READ: Am I Crazy for Not Sending My Daughter to Summer Camp?

Then it came time for the final sleepover of the summer. This adventure would bring Joey’s group to Busch Gardens (two hours away) and a sleepover at the Tampa JCC. Aaron’s group would be going to Legoland and sleeping at our Orlando JCC. Again, Aaron could not wait. But two days before the trip he sprained his wrist, and after a trip to the ER, was put into a splint. That wasn’t going to deter him from this epic field trip/sleepover.

Every time I broached the subject with Joey, he consistently let me know that he wasn’t going. But this also meant no field trip, because I wasn’t going to drive all the way to Tampa to pick him up. I gently pushed him as the day got closer. He resisted. I pushed harder. Eventually I told him that he was going. He needed to try. He needed to step out of his comfort zone. This was the last chance for the summer. He has great counselors and kids in his group. If he didn’t like it, I wouldn’t make him do any sleepovers the following summer, but he had to try.

He cried. I felt badly. I almost caved. But eventually he sniffled, “OK, I’ll do it.” He told me he was worried that he would have to sleep alone, or that he’d be forced to play games that he didn’t want to play. He sat with me at my computer while we drafted an email to his camp coordinator to share his concerns.

READ: How an Unlikely Friendship Formed at Jewish Summer Camp

The amazing camp coordinator and director both assured me that they would communicate if there were any issues. They reminded me that no news is good news. The boys left the house at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday and I wasn’t going to see them until 4:00 on Friday. I had my phone next to me all day Thursday. I got a quick email that said both boys were on their way to the field trips with smiles on their faces.

At 10:00 p.m. I got the following email from the camp coordinator:

Hi Samantha, 

I am sitting here with Joey and we are emailing to say that we had a really great day today! Joey said he went on the water ride and it takes you around a river which was really fun. He barely got soaked which was funny because everyone else did.

We are at the Tampa JCC and getting ready for bed. He says he misses you but don’t worry because he’s having fun.

See you tomorrow!

Joey says “I love you.”

I cried happy tears. I showed it to my husband, forwarded it to my parents, and copied and pasted it to half a dozen friends. I was elated. The next day I went to camp to pick them up. The boys had requested that I come into Shabbat song session to get them, instead of the car line, because they would miss me.

Aaron’s counselors came up to me first. “Aaron had a great time—we covered his splint when it rained at Legoland. He missed you a little bit, but he had a great experience.”

READ: How to Get a Bunch of Teenagers to Study Jewish Literature in the Summer

Then Joey’s counselor came up to me. “He did awesome! He was just like any other kid. He was happy. He participated. He was perfect! He had one complaint though. He told me that our other counselor snored, and that kept him up.” We giggled.

sleepaway camp

I hugged both of my boys and told them how proud I was of them. Joey said he was glad that he went. He loved Busch Gardens. He enjoyed seeing a different JCC. He didn’t care for only getting six hours of sleep. The jury is still out if he’ll do sleepovers next year. But that doesn’t matter to me. He did it. I pushed him, and I’m glad that I did. It was hard to do, but sometimes we have to be pushed. I’m giving myself a gold star on this one, and if Joey does decide to go next year, I’m giving him some ear plugs.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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