There are many things I miss about childhood, but there are two times a year I miss it more than any other.
One is September, for no other reason than the thrill of all the new school supplies. To this day, I’m a sucker for a fresh notebook and a new package of pens.
The other is summer.
More specifically – summer camp.
I started going to sleepaway summer camp the year I turned either six or seven – I don’t exactly remember which.
But here’s what I do remember. The weeks before, my father took me to the Scouts Canada shop so I’d have every single imaginable piece of gear I could need.
Lesson one learned from summer camp: make a list when you’re packing. It helps you make sure you’ve got what you need, and if you’re out of room, you know what you don’t. (Goodbye, canoe paddle.)
That summer, or perhaps the one after, my parents gave me a Walkman to take to camp and I remember exactly which tape I chose first to take with me: Fats Domino.
Lesson two learned from summer camp: music fads come and go, but the classics are that way for a reason.
At that time in my life, my mom actually did most of the packing. On the list were towels for swimming and showers. So, she did what most reasonable people would do when packing for a kid going to camp – she packed old towels.
Little did she know – and how could she – that all the other girls were going to show up with beach towels decorated with all manner of colours or cartoons.
Lesson three learned at summer camp: if kids are going to judge you because you don’t have a cool towel, those aren’t the kids you want to be friends with anyway.
Five or six summers later, I finally told my parents that I really didn’t want to go back to that camp.
And that’s when they decided to send me to the best summer camp on earth: Camp Kadimah in Barss Corner, N.S. Yes, a Jewish summer camp in the middle of nowhere – but the best.
If you are a camp person, you’re now ready to pick a fight with me and tell me I’m wrong because your camp, not mine, is the best camp in the world.
That’s how camp people are. It’s how my husband and I are. The only consistent disagreement we have over raising our daughter is where to send her to summer camp.
I should be clear: this is of such profound concern to us that we were having the argument even before we got pregnant.
And, if you still think I’m not serious: when she was an infant, we’d each sing her our own camp songs as lullabies and once got into an argument over the proper lyrics to “Rad Hayom.” His camp does it one way, mine another.
So, yeah, camp is a big deal in our house.
Camp taught me a lot. The lessons I listed above, how to water ski, the joys of Led Zeppelin. To this day, I can still make a macramé bracelet out of pretty much anything.
When people talk about the benefits of summer camp, the one most often cited is independence. And, for sure, that’s true – you learn to take care of yourself in a way that’s completely different than at home.
There’s a Jewish side of that as well.
You see, I went to Jewish day school. I was raised in a Jewish home.
Yet, I can say without question, that camp is where I actually delighted in being Jewish in a way I just didn’t the rest of the year.
I’m not much of a dancer, but put on the tunes for Oneg Shabbat at camp, and I’ll do that popcorn dance until my palms were smarting from all the clapping.
There’s something to be said for the fact that at Jewish summer camp you can live a Jewish life in a way you just can’t in the city, no matter where you are on the religious spectrum. Perhaps it’s because in our million-channel universe, there’s only ever one program on at camp.
So, while regular readers of this column might know we still haven’t settled on whether our daughter will attend Jewish day school, she will be going to Jewish summer camp.
Maybe she’ll end up at my camp or my husband’s. Or maybe we’ll compromise and she’ll go somewhere new, and come home with a new version of “Rad Hayom.”
But Kadimah will always be the best camp. Just saying.