Because of a real estate closing (we sold a property we owned in Harlem – hooray!) my presence was required at an office in Long Island at 10am this morning. This meant I was dressed in business casual attire and leaving my building at around 8:15 to pick up coffee from Starbucks, pick up my car from the garage and drive the 30 miles or so to the closing. Since my kids and I are hardly ever awake before 9am, let alone out of the house, I never see the neighborhood in its’ ‘on the way to work’ mode. The thing that struck me was how many ‘on their way to work’ parents had little kids in tow who were being taken to one of the many local day camps. Most of them were wearing a t-shirt from whatever camp they are enrolled in and carrying a huge backpack filled, no doubt, with snacks and maybe a favorite stuffed toy. These kids looked to be anywhere between 3 and 6 years old – no older than that for sure. I guess all the older kids were already on buses on their way to the various day camps outside the city. (The refrain “Ramaquois Rocks!” buzzes through my head every time I think of camp – Camp Ramaquois spends a lot of money off-season advertising in the local movie theaters…)
My own view of camp, day or otherwise, is not positive and is mainly informed by my one and only experience at camp growing up. It was a week long and was a sleepaway camp not far from my hometown. I went at the behest of a friend, and absolutely hated it. I hated the constant organized activities, most of which I found pointless (with the notable exception of the greased watermelon fight in the lake, which was hilarious). I hated singing ‘camp songs’ and living in a cabin with 8 girls I didn’t know who spent most of their time thinking up ways to prank the other cabins – especially the ones where the boys slept. But the real reason I hated camp was this: The cabins we stayed in were situated down a hill from the building that housed the showers and bathrooms. (ooh, did I mention how much fun the communal showers were?) Every night, for the last hour before lights out, the camp sponsored a ‘canteen’ featuring music and snacks, and on the first night we all bought ourselves Cokes and chips. I don’t know about any of you, but a full can of Coke less than an hour before bedtime means one thing – I’m going to need to get up and make a trip to the bathroom at some point in the night.
So that first night, I did.
When I trudged up the hill to the bathhouse, the camp counselors were all still sitting around the campfire. No one spoke to me so I headed to the bathroom and then returned to my bed. The next evening at the after dinner campfire prior to the canteen, an announcement was made. “There will be no more late night wanderings to the bathroom.” My friend jabbed me in the side and whispered, “They’re talking about you.” Yeah, thanks.
Needless to say, I bought no more Cokes and lived the rest of the week in fear of needing to go to the bathroom in the night. Which is the surest way to make yourself feel that you need to go to the bathroom in the night. It was hell. Even more ridiculous was that no one said a word about the late night ‘raids’ some of the campers held on rival cabins. Hazing? Sure, be our guest! Just stay away from the bathrooms! One fellow camper, having held her bladder all night, decided that the best way to deal with it was to simply drop her pants and pee all over the cabin from the vantage point of the rafters, into which you could easily climb. Thank god she wasn’t in my cabin. She also was not reprimanded.
I’m not going to get into a debate on the pros and cons of camp. We know families in our building whose children go to sleepaway camp for 7 weeks. That leaves exactly one week of summer spent at home before school starts up again. We don’t have summer vacation from school, but in any case I would hate to have my kids away for that long. (Or at all.) Luckily they feel the same.
I hope camps today are more sensible than the one I attended. But given the fact that nothing else is more sensible than when I was growing up, I don’t know why camps would be. Maya’s friend Greta, who is schooled and who has friends who go to camp but who has no interest in going herself, said it well. “Camp is just like school except with outdoor activities. There’s always someone telling you what to do.”
Which may be the best reason of all not to go.