‘Please can we go to this camp?” my older son asked me after a parlor meeting in my town with the director of an overnight camp.
“I really want to go!” my younger son said.
I wasn’t ready for this.
Sure, one could argue that when you go to a parlor meeting about an overnight summer camp in the dead cold of January, you’re in the market to send your kids to, well, an overnight summer camp. But for me, this meeting was just another stop in a yearlong exercise in due diligence, for that far-off future day when we’d possibly, eventually, send the kids to overnight camp.
My husband, baby daughter and pregnant self had visited camps over the summer as part of our research. We went to an all-boys camp in the beautiful Adirondacks where my husband spent many summers as a child. We went to an arts camp in Connecticut where kids were learning how to blow glass. We visited a camp in the Berkshires that seemed much smaller than when I’d last been there, 30 years ago. And we left each camp more confused than when we started. Each camp could give our kids a great experience: How were we supposed to choose?
We took a break for a few hours at a luxurious resort in the Berkshires one afternoon, letting our 1-year-old happily toddle in the grass while we sipped lemonade on the lawn. The gorgeous quiet was suddenly punctuated by multiple soundings of air horns, whistleblowing and boys yelling. Apparently, there was a camp nearby that my tour planning had missed — a well-known, “fancy” (read: expensive) camp where the boys would compete in sports from morning till night.
Look, I’m a Jewish mother: I’m proud of my kids. That being said, my particular kids are not exactly pro-athlete material. So did I want my kids to spend the summer trying to win, or trying to beat the other kids in whatever competition was that day’s schedule? Games are fun, but I found myself also wanting something else — something more substantive. I wanted camp to be their opportunity to experiment with training-wheel independence, but also, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was important for me to have them do so within a Jewish context.
Being Jewish is an essential part of who we are as a family — and that’s not going to stop being true over the summer. Camp is an opportunity for kids to see and test out who they are as individuals, without parents peering over their shoulders. And Jewish camp does one better by allowing kids the chance to see who they are, or could become, as Jews, independently and with kids from all over the country and world.