On Camp by Beth Ain


Summer camp

I was sitting in a Broadway show this week for my son’s 5th grade field trip and staring into space when he asked me if I was okay. It is that time of year—finals! Elementary graduation! Camp Packing! All good and wonderful things, but trying to balance them with work and life and all the emotions that come along, is taxing and my eyes were closing during School of Rock. Sorry, School of Rock. I blinked away the sleep and told him I was fine. Just tired. He took my hand in his and held it for the rest of the show. I teared up and held on tight. In a week, he and my daughter will be at sleep away camp for 7 weeks.

They will decorate their area with all of the vital bunk-bed accoutrements we’ve collected over the years, and a collage I almost forgot to make. They will yawn through morning prayers, sing and dance over breakfast, and walk around linked arm in arm with their favorite people in the world, painting their faces and cheering with great ruach as they stumble—their legs tied together as three, their hearts tied together as one. They will work on their Hebrew, folding words like agam and kikar into their vocabulary and they will wear white and look out at the lake on Shabbat and I will count the minutes until Sunday when I will—G-D willing—discover a picture of them in their Shabbat smiles and wet hair, fresh off a camp week steeped in sunshine and sweat and lake water.
They will make new friends but keep the old.

I will cry at the first traffic light I hit after their bus leaves. I will remember that I cried when my mom left me at the top of the hilltop at my own beloved camp, after making my bed just right and hugging me tight and shmushing my face in her hands, squinting back her own tears. I will remember that I got over it the minute a counselor took me to back to the bunk for more unpacking and a dance party.

I will make loads of doctor appointments and I will run and write and eat dinner outside by the water in my town, which I appreciate and breathe in more in the summer. I will take evening walks with my husband and we will go on long weekend hikes and maybe check out a city we’ve never visited, have a conversation we’ve been meaning to have.

Summer camp is a collage in its own right. Snapshots taped up in my memory of best friends and enemies and girl drama and crushes and color war and heat stroke and homesickness and carnivals and bobbing for apples. It was a camp out of time where we would gather under a giant oak tree after Saturday morning services, and sing a resounding When the Saints Go Marching In, played by cute counselors in tie-dye and guitars, and a folksy camp director wielding an acoustic guitar, too, and a hankering for the simple pleasures of summers past. There were wreck hall dances to the soundtrack of 80’s pop and a raucous Born to Run would leave us dripping with sweat and euphoria. We would part ways afterwards, maybe with a quick kiss at the end of a bridge—girls to the left and boys to the right. It would all culminate in a last night of camp bonfire set to Leaving on a Jetplane and the wails of teenage girls afraid of what would come next.

I loved it and I hated it. Some of your kids will love it and some will hate it, too.

The kids will come home and they will maybe even put their laundry in the hamper without being asked and clear their dishes and ask to do Birkat after our first Shabbat reunited. And then summer will fade away with the beginning of a new school year and we will be propelled forward through algebra and lunchroom shenanigans and bat mitzvahs and hopefully, fingers crossed for us all, more good things than bad. Somehow, my son will not be in elementary school anymore and my daughter will be finishing off middle school, and heading in the direction of high school and I will carpool a lot and we will angst a little over book reports and tennis tryouts and lunch packing and it will be hard to get in some writing or even a quick run.

But I will make time for holding their hands tight when I can. I will stifle my yawns when I can, grateful that they lived somewhere without me in a screen-free cocoon of Judaism and song, and that they came back to me—stronger and taller and bronze with memories, and let us say Amen.


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