Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I'm So Happy My Kids Love Summer Camp

When I was a kid, I had to go to summer camp. Not being a very outdoorsy or athletic child, I generally hated camp. I didn't like swimming, particularly. I didn't like being outside all day. I didn't like a lot of the group activities we did. I have some good memories, like archery and acting electives, some of the art projects, things like that. But, generally, traditional summer camps and I were not a good match.

There was one year when I attended a youth theater camp. I loved that. I really enjoyed learning about acting and directing a play. I couldn't be in the play because we were leaving camp the day before the performance, but they assigned me the role of Assistant Director. I had a blast. It was indoors and interesting for me, and I was so relieved not to be forced to spend the day in the scorching sun running around and doing crazy team activities I didn't like.

So when my son got old enough to attend summer camp, I had to make a decision. "Make" him go to camp to get the experience, or "save" him from the hell that is summer camp (to me)?

My rabbi and his wife had a small but energetic summer camp that they ran through the synagogue. My son already had quite a few friends in that camp, I was close with the rabbi's wife and trusted her, and they made the camp sound very exciting. They took trips twice a week, went swimming, did lots of different types of activities, and kept the kids very, very busy all day. It sounded like something I would exactly hate, but when I told my son about it, he was excited. He wanted to go. So I signed him up.

He had a blast, and is now attending for a third summer. His younger brother is attending fort he first time this year, and was equally excited. I'm only sending them for a week this summer, and in past years he went for two weeks, but it's a great way to break up the school vacation and give them a new experience.

A bonus to all of it is that it's a Jewish camp, so they are spending the day with Jewish friends, and there is a Jewish element to everything they do. They say a blessing over the food they eat, they learn about Shabbat, they sing Jewish songs, and they foster a love of Judaism. This extra bit is what really sold me, because my kids go to a regular public school, so this is a great boost to their Jewish lives and sense of self.

My kids came back from their first and second days of camp bubbling over with excitement, both for the activities they'd done that day and for those planned for later in the week. The five-year-old was anxious to share his bunk cheer, and the seven-year-old had a whole narrative about what had happened at the pool. They can't wait to go in the morning and are happily exhausted on the drive home.

If my kids ever came to me and said they hated camp, I wouldn't make them go, or I would try to find some other activity or camp that would speak more to their interests. I don't need childcare, although it's nice for them to be able to get out of the house and be with other people besides boring Mommy all day, and I don't want them to grow up resenting those weeks spent in the hot sun. But, conversely, since they do love it, I will make the effort to have them attend every year, so they can grow up with this fond memory and a healthy family tradition.

It's important for us to remember, as parents, that our kids are not us. They will like some things we don't, and they will dislike some things we like. We want to share our positive experiences with them and protect them from negative ones. But my negative experience may not be so for them. And something I loved as a kid may not interest them.

My kids are like me in a lot of ways, but they are also unlike me in many. They are exuberant, friendly, outgoing, and engaging little boys, compared to the shy, introverted, slow-to-warm, timid little girl I was. They like to be in the thick of things, and I liked to be a wallflower. They like new experiences, and I liked the familiar and routine. I want to honor the people they are and help them continue to extend those boundaries and enrich their world.

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