Why We’re Better Off Sending Our Kids To Camp

Eight days ago, I put my kid on a bus, sent her away to camp for three weeks, and all of us in our house are better off for it – the camper included. I’m pretty sure if you asked my parents if they felt the same way 25-odd years ago, they’d say the same thing.

This is her fourth summer going to Herzl Camp. Growing up in Michigan, I never went to Herzl – although I went to, essentially, Michigan’s version of it. I’m hoping she’s learning the same things I think I learned in my years of camp:

  • Self-confidence
  • Some degree of self-reliance
  • A reinforcement of the Jewish values that she won’t necessarily get from Hebrew school, synagogue or from home
  • A smidge of common sense
  • The inside jokes that no one else understands
  • The ability to subsist on FAR less sleep than you generally require (and if the pictures from the first week mean anything, she’s absolutely nailing that).

Based on the first couple of letters, it’s also clear that I have some things to teach her, including not putting a return address label on postcards, and not to scream yourself hoarse inside the first five days of camp. Pacing yourself is crucial. This can’t be understated.

For my youngest, her older sister being away helps because she gets the undivided attention of both of her parents. She didn’t get the 4 years of being an only child that her sister got, so these few weeks each year, I think, are important to her. But as much as they poke at each other the other 49 weeks of the year, they miss each other terribly – even if the older one denies it; the little one took an old blanket from her sister’s room to sleep with while she’s gone.

As relatively painless getting her on the bus to camp this year was, the weekend (give or take) leading up to her departure is anything but. We generally are subject to several days of misery that we get put through in our house as she lashes out. I realize it’s her working out the anxiety that comes with getting ready to leave. But once she works all that out, I realize that we’ll miss her while she’s gone, but that she’s better off for leaving town.

For starters, the evolution of getting on the bus has changed immensely over those first four years. Year 1, armed with too-much stuff in her backpack and her BFF that was unsure about getting on the bus, she took her hand and pulled her on board. Year 2, it was her turn to be apprehensive, only to have the same BFF grab her and drag her on the bus. Last year was uneventful; the two of them got the hang of it and with little to no obvious sign of nerves. This year, she played the role of camp elder (of sorts), putting an arm around an apprehensive friend and Herzl first-timer and told her she’d have a great time.

When she comes home in a little less than two weeks, we’ll be ecstatic. She will have had a great time and we will be happy to welcome her home. Until re-entry kicks in, which like a space ship coming back into the Earth’s atmosphere, gets a little bumpy. For example: One year at dinner on her first night back home, she got up from the table and went to the fridge. I asked what she was doing and she said she didn’t like what we made and she was going to make a PB&J sandwich. We had to remind her that camp rules aren’t home rules; what is made for dinner is dinner. I don’t run a diner.

Yes, the camp world is a bubble unlike any other world that they occupy. But what her going to camp reinforces for me every year, is that the camp world is an awfully good world to be in. Hopefully all kids, no matter which camp they get to go away to, realize how lucky they are.