I spent every summer since age 14 at Camp Moshava- a sleep-away camp in Honesdale, Pennsylvania where the smell of mildew, grass and a hint of ashes from a seemingly eternal campfire permeated the air. That smell brings back some of the best memories of my life. The last days of camp always brought many tears and a bit of dread going back to civilian life. Camp afforded us freedom- from school, parents and social drama. Camp friendships ran deep and true and to this day, thirty years later, many of my close friends are camp friends. It shaped my religious identity and directed many life choices- what college to go to, what gap year program to choose and what kind of guy I wanted to settle down with. I married a camper too- a different camp but the same passion and nostalgia. It was a no-brainer that we would want our kids to have the same rich experience we were given.
Our second child was born to be a camper. She is an active participant in life in general and is the kind of kid that just needs an invitation to fall in love with things. We sent her to Camp Ramah Darom for her first summer last year and she fell madly and very vocally in love with the place. Her room is a mini-shrine to Ramah and she is counting the days until this summer. Camp Ramah has given her exactly what we hoped for- a home away from home that brings her immense joy while molding an identity we support and foster. She is literally one very happy camper.
Our first child, our eldest couldn’t be more different. He needs to be pushed to do things and would be quite content staying home playing video games and building forts. He’s a social kid overall but shy enough that he struggles with initiative when it comes to social events. He has flat out refused to go to sleep away camp for the last few years and though he’ll be 14 this year has managed to stay in day camps until now. He has officially aged out of day camps and is too young to get a job so we are at a crossroads now with what to do with him. Do we force him to go to sleep away camp? Do we let him stay home? Would forcing him to go be coming from a selfish place- one that screams, “I loved camp and so will you dammit”? Are we superimposing our desires on to him?
As parents, we often push our children to do what we believe is best for them. They don’t intuitively want to bathe and go to bed but on a regular basis, we make them. They may whine and scream, but we make the rules. It’s clear what to do with matters of safety, health and hygiene but what about the more nebulous matters like school choice and clothing preferences? We try to let our kids have the freedom to make those choices when possible. So if my son emphatically declares he has no desire to go to sleep away camp- do we force him?
We decided to force him. He will be going to Ramah Darom with his jubilant younger sister this summer. She will be bouncing off the walls with excitement while he will likely be full of dread and anxiety. We believe that in the end, he will have a good experience and maybe even want to go back. He may even thank us for forcing him to go. It’s also very possible he wont. He may throw it back in our faces how we forced him to go and how he suffered through four weeks of meh. He may hold it over us for many years to come and tell anyone who will listen what a colossal mistake we made. But yet… we believe in camp. We believe in the deep and lasting impact it has on kids. We believe that camp is more important than school in some ways and we don’t give him a choice whether or not to attend school. We believe going to Ramah is best for our son. We sincerely hope we’re right. But we may have a child who just isn’t a camp kid. As alien as that seems to us, it may be what it is. And if so, we will have to acquiesce to that and find something else he can connect with that will help shape his religious identity, infuse him with a love of Israel and foster lifelong friendships. Here’s hoping for another happy camper.
About Pamela Brill
I’m a full-time pediatric oncology nurse practitioner, mother of 3, wife to 1. I write to stay sane. Motherhood, wifehood, fertility, faith, body image, and humanity are my favorite topics. I truly love lying on a couch watching mindless TV. Music is life. My kids are simultaneously amazing and loathsome. My husband is mostly amazing. I’ve dieted my whole life and am still overweight. If I could read for 7 days straight I would!
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