My First Summer at Camp and the New Yorker

Oh summer camp. The reason parents take a long time researching the perfect summer experience for their child’s emotional and social psyche; the time when parents download the website’s packing list and pack extra of everything and something “special” just to be safe and just because  “you never know;” the time between school’s end and flitting freedom when parents disregard the package rules of the camp and send loads of crap to make sure their child knows they are loved –

Wait, I apologize, please let me jump out of the time machine in which I travel.

I remember minding my own business all of 5th grade. Shortly before the school year ended my dad sat me down, looked me straight in the eye and said , “Jessie, you are going to overnight camp with Heather. Her mother says it will be good for you and you will have a nice Jewish experience. It is three weeks long, okay?”

Arguing with my father was like trying to argue a summer storm away; it was impossible – just let it come, get wet, dry off later!

The two of us shlumped on the bus at the Milwaukee Jewish Community Center on Santa Monica BLVD with our Subway subs, water bottles and waved in shock and awe as the tinted glass made our parent’s faces more and more blurry and distorted until they finally disappeared.

I will wrap this up with some swift fury –

The two of us carried on, kvetched and were homesick for a few days. I sent letters home describing utter culinary horror and loneliness and a message of impending death. What I also remember about my first summer at camp was the impeccable simplicity; I was happier than I had been in a long time. I remember laughing so hard I peed in my bunk bed; I remember playing cards until the sun came up; I remember feeling free and proud of myself; I remember coming home with friends who I now call my family – literally and figuratively. My dad didn’t know what I looked like or how many bug bites I had on my body and I did not know if he was happy or sad or dating anyone new. What I did know was two things: one, camp was good for me – it was really that simple; two, my dad loved me crazy. He let me know this through the inside of a 4-⅛” x 9-½” envelope. Twice a week I opened a crisp white rectangle filled with articles from the New Yorker Magazine. He would cut out an article, write something on top like, “Jessie, John Updike is a great author. I like reading his stories and someday you will too. Give this a try. Love, dad.” Who??! I was 10. Dad –  I was 10!!

We all love our children crazy and we all need to love them the best way we know how.  Love is individual; love is unique; love is primal. It is not our place to judge how others love; but, what I do know is – summer camp is good!

Fly little bird, little Chavelah, find yourself… New Yorker 1985

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