Jews Send Our Kids to Overnight Camps

I am in peer pressure hell.

Jews send our kids to overnight camp. It’s like a rite of passage, a given, a duh!, and if you don’t do it, you’re the odd mom out. My Gentile friends send their kids, but for a week at a time. We go big guns – a whole month, if not the whole summer.

Until now, my kids have never expressed much interest in going to overnight camp. I went – for 9 years! – and loved it. Well, I loved it after I got through the first few years of dire homesickness.

I loved the freedom of making new friends in the north woods of Wisconsin. I loved the quiet of no technology (and back then, there wasn’t much anyway). I loved the girl talk late at night, the tennis and archery and water skiing. I loved the lake, and I loved the singing in the dining hall, and I loved the excitement of the boys camp coming for a dance.

When I was older and a counselor, I loved days and nights off in the north woods – the absolute dark, the crackle of the fire, eating Tombstone pizza and drinking Leinenkugel beer with counselors from the boys camp across the lake.

When I left camp, I was so sad to go. I feverishly wrote letters to friends (this was way before the days of email and light years before texting and cell phones). I pored over my pictures once they were developed, putting them safely behind plastic in albums so I could keep them forever.

Even while I loved it, I never had a choice about camp. From the time I was 9, my parents decided I would go – whether I wanted to or not. Staying home was not an option. It’s just what my community – what most Jewish communities – do.

As a mom now, I don’t feel that impetus to send my kids off. I hear the common reasons: It’s so good for them. It builds independence. It’s good for both of you to have a break. 

All fine and good. Except I love being with my kids and they love being with me – and being home – in the summer. We take our time. We sleep late and go to sleep late. We decide on impromptu daily outings and explore, have adventures of our own.

Ever since I became a mom, I fell into this attachment-parenting mode, where I believe that what kids need more than anything is love and support and connection to family. I’m even a fan of homeschooling, though I don’t do it, because the peer pressure and rigid structure of school doesn’t work for everyone.

We can all make do with whatever situation we’re given. School isn’t jail. Neither is camp.

But we get one childhood and it’s fleeting. Why push kids out the door? Why force them to detach from the minute they are born? (Don’t get me started on cribs and one room per kid.)

Today, a bunch of my friends’ kids, and my kids’ friends, leave for overnight camp. Some have already gone. People are asking me whether I’ll ever send them.

The jury was out until this weekend, when my daughter went to a family fun day at a local camp with a friend. She came home wanting to go next summer. Then my little guy said he’d go for a short session. Then my eldest, who is not necessarily the personality to handle overnight camp well, said maybe he’ll go.

From zero to three in a heartbeat. And I know my step-daughter will go if given the chance.

I know parenting is a series of little steps of letting go until the big one comes, when they leave the nest forever, only to return for quick visits. I’m just not ready for it.

It’s a weird practice, parenting. We bring new life into the world and adore it, nurture it, hold it close for the very purpose of preparing it – and ourselves – to part. I’ve often wondered why we make such deep connections in this life if only to set them free.

I’ll send them if that’s where their hearts want to go. But it doesn’t mean I have to like it. It seems parenting is more a lesson for ourselves than for our kids.

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