“Um, excuse me. I lost my jean jacket. It has a Michael Jackson pin on it. If you find it, please return it to Allyson Ochs in Cabin G3.” The year was 1981. Camp Seagull, Charlevoix MI. I was 9 years old and away at camp for a month. And I will never forget my nerves at having to make such a crucial announcement at the morning flagpole gathering. It was the best.
There is a place, my friends, where, for one or two months, you can live with all of your friends. Your guardians are really cool teenagers. You play games, laugh, talk, sing, and hang out all day without a care in the world. No, it’s not college. In fact, you can start going to this place at age 8! Sleep away camp is a carefree land that requires you to lay on the beach, ride boats and kayaks, and to make lanyards and candles all day long. It is magical for both the kids and the parents, who suddenly have no audience in the bathroom anymore.
All I wanted is for each of my kids to find a camp they loved. Lucky for Sam, there is Stagedoor Manor. It is a 3 week overnight camp in the Catskills of New York, where they rehearse and perform in shows directed by the best in the business. It is famous for the shows that premiere there (everything from Avenue Q to High School Musical) and the alumni that attended as kids ( from Robert Downey Jr to Natalie Portman). There are books and movie shows about the camp. It has been featured on 20/20 and celebrities like to “stop by” all summer to teach and say hi.
Most important, though, is the fact that Sam has found his camp. It is “a land of Sams” where there is a pool no one goes into, and a volleyball court no one steps foot on. The campers can be found singing and dancing or talking about their favorite Broadway shows all day long. It is his happy place, where he is loved and accepted for who he is. He needs those friends and this life that exists nowhere else on this earth.
Sam leaves tomorrow night for camp. I realized while I was in Portland the last week of the tour that it was coming up and I had not packed him yet. So, with a deadline looming, I packed up all his tour clothing, stole the hotel towels and pillows (but not the sheets as I felt THAT was wrong) and I shipped his camp bag off to NY. For the last 3 days of the tour he wore the same shorts every day. Sue me.
Lauren has yet to find her perfect camp. She has been to 2 Jewish based camps neither of which she loved (the second camp was very focused on Jewish prayers and songs. The camp play, in fact, was Mary Poppins, performed in Hebrew, a language she does not know.) She loved cheerleading camp this summer, but a camp that lasts only 6 days is not enough for mama.
You parents out there who spend all summer “hanging by the pool” or “relaxing” with their kids: good for you. I need a break from my kids and trust me, your kids need one from you. It’s great real world preparation. They need to learn to problem solve and socialize and live WITHOUT you. You also need to see what life is like for a bit with an empty nest. It’s good for you and it’s good for your mind, which you have slowly been losing all school year long.
The Jews seem to have started this concept but more and more non Jews are catching on. We are proud of you.
Someone tonight asked me what I missed the most about the tour. “The bus” I said. 12 hours to focus on myself. Reading, thinking, napping. Chit chatting with friends, singing, gossiping, laughing over inside jokes and playing silly games that no one outside our bus would find funny. The bus is the closest I will ever get to going back to camp.
Camp to me is what Peter Pan is talking about when he describes Neverland to Wendy.
I hope that all my kids find their Neverland. You can keep it in your heart as you grow old and it will immediately remind you what it felt like to be a kid. Have a great 3 weeks Sam!
Now I just need to get rid of the other two….