I recently read a friend's post on Facebook describing how this time of year brings her the greatest memories of her childhood, spent in overnight camp. Camp friends are tagged and hashtagged sentences hold hands, all cheering for the best summers ever.
I hear twin sentiments from some of my girlfriends who are currently occupied with labeling clothing, buying the right shower caddies and acquiring an overabundance of Nike socks. In less than a week, many will be seeing their kids off to overnight camp – some for their second or third summer. They hope for lessons in independence, overcoming challenges unparented and making those unbreakable lifelong friendships.
I feel as left out of this overnight camp nostalgia business as I felt left out at overnight camp.
Being Jewish, I went to overnight camp. It's what we young Jews do, like becoming a Bat Mitzvah and wishing we celebrated Christmas. I went to Camp Pine Forest from age 14 to 17, finishing my time there as a CIT for a group of 11-year-old girls. But, unlike my friends, I don't yearn for those summers.
Hmm. Let me think. Why could that be?
Did the girls all read my diary – including the lyric poem entitled "Fly"?
Did they hang my first training bra from the rafters?
Were my bunkmates always borrowing my Walkman and not returning it?
Did they request a lot of unreciprocated hair braiding and back rubs?
Did they try to set me up with the least attractive guy?
Was I often referred to as a "lesbo"?
Did I fake stomach illness to avoid co-ed social activities?
Did the song "American Pie" give me facial tics?
Did I wish I had my own shower bucket, personalized with bubble letters? An item not on the camp packing list, along with monogrammed towel wraps, Forenza sweaters and Guess two-toned jeans?
Did I pee in another girl's shower bucket in the middle of the night? (Skunks blocking the bathroom. It wasn't ladylike.)
Did everyone wake up and witness me peeing in another girl's shower bucket?
After that, did everyone, including counselors, refer to me as "Bucket Woman?"
Instead of getting bus notes, was I pretty sure I was the subject of said bus notes?
Yes. And yes, I am letting my mildly distressing experience color my decision not to send my kids to overnight camp this year. Not because my diary entries from the summers of '84 and '85 could depress a Disney snowman. But because I just don't get it.
My husband, who also didn't have a great experience at overnight camp, shares my feelings. What is the big whup about overnight camp? What could be worth sending your kids away for eight weeks when they still enjoy hanging out with you at the shore?
Fortunately, my oldest, despite a test drive at Camp Harlam over the winter, is not at all interested in overnight camp. He barely agrees to day camp.
My girlfriend Lysa's daughter is off to Harlam for four weeks. Lysa sells Harlam like they are paying her – and they should. She's almost got me.
There are factors about Harlam that appeal to my husband and me. Harlam has two- and four-week options. It's not far. It's priced well. I do like the idea of the boys being with all Jewish kids. A camp like Harlam could offer them something many other experiences cannot — a deeper connection to Judaism. We could — and would — send them to Harlam. If they wanted to go.
It’s not like things didn't get better for Bucket Woman. By the end of my second summer, I had succesfully turned things around with a few improvised lines during the production of "Grease," a rockin' lip sync performance of "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" and winning the Purple Haze dance contests with my more skilled partner, Aimee. A highlight of my summer was overhearing a younger camper say, "That's Jenny Rosen. She's really funny."
At Pine Forest, maybe I didn't have the same superlative-worthy experiences as my girlfriends. But I did learn valuable lessons in social dynamics, in overcoming being unliked, in finding and utilizing my sense of humor. And, in the end, I did have fun.
But unless my kids beg me for overnight camp, I am content to remain left out.