I’m 59. I have a 10-year-old girl and a 14-year-old lad. You do the math.
While most of my friends are celebrating the marriage of their sons and daughters, or the birth of their grandchildren, I am celebrating other, less grandiose, but still important milestones.
My son recently graduated Grade 8. My daughter left home this summer.
I should explain that last one.
She took Highway 400 to Highway 11, on a bus, with other kids her age, as she headed to Utterson, Ont., for a month of overnight summer camp. It was her first time. I’m sure it’s a familiar scenario for many of you reading this: mothers and fathers tearing up as they watch their crying children loaded into a big bus.
It’s a tradition that dates back as long as I can remember. My slightly sadistic but loving mother still regales me with the story of how, when I was my daughter’s age, I sat looking out the bus window as it idled in the parking lot waiting to pull out. Tears streaming down my face, I cried out from the window, “But I don’t want to go to camp!”
My mother, to this day, recalls that she waved and yelled back, “But we want you to go.” She insists it was said in humour. I have my doubts.
My daughter loves all things Jewish, so when I tried to sell her, and my ex-wife, on the virtues of attending my alma mater camp, it fell on deaf ears. She had already made up her mind where to go to camp. She was as excited by the prospect of reciting prayers as she was about partaking in traditional summer camp activities, like tetherball, water-skiing and, my personal favourite, food fights in the mess hall.
I’ve read all the studies and reports claiming that a Jewish summer camp experience is vital in creating a bond to the organized Jewish community and to forging lifelong friendships. I’ve written countless articles about the importance of a Jewish summer camp experience, whether it be Orthodox, Conservative or Reform.
But those were just words.
And then I received a phone call and emails from the parent liaison at camp about how my daughter cried in the mornings and evenings every day during her first week away from home, and complained about stomach aches brought on by a severe case of “homesickness.” My heart ached.
I couldn’t hold her, or tickle her or tell her terrible knock-knock jokes as I usually do to make her feel better. I just had to sit back, trust her counsellors and hope for the best. It was probably the most helpless feeling I’ve ever had. I had to remind myself that this was the little girl who just some two or three months earlier couldn’t make it through an entire sleepover at a friend’s house just down the street, let alone a month away from mom and dad, 200 kilometres away.
Halfway through her month-long session, I’d communicated with her countless times via email “bunk notes” and she responded in kind. It’s not exactly how it was 50 years ago when, as a camper, I was thrilled to receive a fat envelope, stuffed with some small reminders of home, and printed with the acronym SWAK (sealed with a kiss). It never failed to make my day.
While the communication process has evolved (or devolved, depending on your point of view), hearing how she had steadied the ship, got her bearings, became fully engaged in camp activities, made some new friends and was having the time of her life was just as satisfying as when I received those letters decades ago.
I honestly cried when I saw a photo of her water-skiing on the camp’s website. I’m so relieved that all those materials I wrote about Jewish summer camp appear to be true.
And, in retrospect, I’m glad she was homesick – it means that my ex and I must be doing something right. Just think of the alternative.
As I looked forward to bringing her home, I sang the same song my dad sang to me on the car ride home from Baysville, Ont., back in 1974: “Hello, Muddah. Hello, Fadduh/Here I am at Camp Granada/Camp is very entertaining/And they say we’ll have some fun if it stops raining.”
The more things change, the more they stay the same.