By Emily P.
Parent of First-Time OSRUI Camper
Zuzu leaves on Monday for her first time at sleepaway camp. She has been waiting for this day since last October when we signed her up. You see, the camp she is going to OSRUI and many of the kids from our temple spend their summers there. Zuzu has been hearing our Rabbi and the older kids at the temple talk about how great camp is since she started Hebrew school four years ago. She is so excited that it is finally her turn to go. Her excitement was stoked by a visit she and her dad made to the camp in April. She toured the beautiful wooded location; saw the pool and waterfront; heard all about the great activities — horseback riding! — and was ready to get started then and there.
As the big day draws near, Zuzu continues to express nothing but excitement for what will be her longest trip away from home to date. But her father and I have noticed that she is a little rough around the edges. She is bickering with her brother more and she breaks down in tears more easily than usual. I’m sure there are nerves below the surface. How could there not be? It’s a huge step for a not-quite-nine-year-old girl.
Packing Zuzu for overnight camp has taken me the better part of two weeks.
I’m excited for her as well. I attended overnight camp for many years when I was a girl. First I went to an all-around camp in West Virgina — Camp Rim Rock it was called. And later, after I became serious about horseback riding, I attended a riding camp. To me, what is great about overnight camps is the chance for kids to get out of their element and to immerse themselves in a passion in a way that it is hard to do in everyday life. For urban kids, like I was, or suburban kids, like Zuzu is, a chance to spend two weeks living in a tent in the woods is a unique experience. Zuzu will also get to experience unparalleled independence at camp and take responsibility for her person and her living space in a way that she does not have to when Mom and Dad are around. I will miss her like crazy, but I’m glad she is going.
Two weeks: that’s how long she will be gone. Yet somehow, the packing list that the camp gave me makes it look like she is mounting an expedition to Mount Kilimanjaro. Underwear, socks, shorts and t-shirts for two weeks. Plus, jeans, sweatshirts and a jacket in case it gets cold or it rains. Swimsuits, towels and a beach bag for the pool and waterfront. Two sets of sheets, a pillow and a sleeping bag for her bunk. Three nice outfits for celebrating Shabbat. Toiletries, sunscreen, bug spray, allergy meds — lots of allergy meds! — a shower caddy and more towels for the shower. A laundry bag. Sneakers, flip-flops, sandals and boots for horseback riding. Books, a flashlight with extra batteries, pens, stationery and stamps for writing letters. Plus, everything needs to be labeled and she can only bring two duffel bags, thank you very much.
I have literally gone to Target, Walgreens or Bed, Bath and Beyond on a daily basis for the past week. I will think that I have everything and then something else will occur to me. I watched Zuzu scratch a bug bite the other day, and I thought, “Damn! I better get her some cortizone cream.” Only after checking the camp website for the eight hundredth time did I realize that not only did I need to send Zuzu’s allergy medication — double the amount necessary please — but also I needed a doctor’s note explaining how much she takes and how often. One of the more experienced moms from the temple pulled me aside the other day to advise me to pack everything in large plastic bags because the tents can leak if it rains really hard and Zuzu’s clothes will stay drier that way. So, I went back to the store for some large plastic bags. And shuddered at the thought of leaky tents.
It’s not only the shopping that is killing me; there’s also the laundry. All those new clothes and sheets and towels need to be washed. And then labeled. Labels on every single pair of underwear. Labels on the shampoo and the toothpaste. Labels on the sheets and towels and laundry bag. A label on anything that I hope to see again. Honestly, it will take me the entire two weeks that she is gone to recover from the work of getting her ready.
But the other night, after a day of shopping and laundry and labeling — always labeling — I sat down to write my girl a letter so that she would have one waiting for her when she arrived at camp. I got to tell her how proud I am of her for taking this big step. I got to reflect on my own experience at sleepaway camp. I thought about my parents and how they used to take turns writing to me when I was away at camp. I remembered the funny letters that my brother wrote when he was away at camp. (Sample: “Dear Mom and Dad, I have to write this letter to get into dinner. Love, T.”)
In that quiet moment, I realized that while I am doing the work of getting Zuzu ready for camp, once she is there, she is on her own. I can do my best to make sure that she is well-prepared for camp. But what happens at camp is up to her. She will be making new friends, trying new activities and experiencing life away from home and family for the first time. If she comes back sunburnt and bug-bitten with piles of wet, dirty clothes that actually belong to some other kid but grinning from ear-to-ear and bursting with stories, I will consider this experience to be a major victory.
Emily P. lives in Chicago with her family, where she writes the lifestyle blog West of the Loop.