By Hannah Reich Berman
Years ago I did the Julius Caesar thing; I just did it a little differently. Julius came, he saw, and he conquered, as in “veni vidi vici.” I came and I saw, but I didn’t conquer; I suffered. This does not refer to that glorious Sunday each summer that strikes fear in the hearts of grandparents everywhere, the day known as visiting day. I described in detail my less-than-thrilling experience that I had 11 years ago. And, over the ensuing years, by popular request, I repeated the tale twice more.
I am not doing that here. Instead, I will touch on another subject near and dear to my heart. That would be the day known as departure day—a.k.a. camp send-off. Most grandparents do not attend these festivities. I do, but only because I refuse to go to visiting day. The camp send-offs for my grandchildren arrive in a few days. There are several of them and I try to attend them all. It’s the least I can do!
I go where I am told it will take place. Some departure sites are in parking lots; others are on a street, but always in front of a school or a shul. Wherever it may be, I can count on it being a crowded scene. The area will be crawling with noisy children departing for the summer. Some kids will be thrilled to be going and others will be miserable about the prospect but are being forced to go by their parents. It sounds ludicrous, but there are some kids who have to be begged, persuaded, and cajoled into allowing mom and dad to spend thousands of dollars to send them to camp.
Half the time the parents do this because they have vacation plans that do not include the children. And the other half of the time, the parents make the kids go to sleepaway camp because, as one of the parents (usually the mother) says, in one long run-on sentence, “Ya gotta go because all the kids are going, so nobody will be home all summer and what will you do all day?” It is a mantra. She doesn’t just say it once; She says it once a day, every day, beginning in early spring. Some mothers probably whisper it into the kid’s ear each night while he’s asleep, in the hope that it will sink into the kid’s subconscious mind and effect a change of heart. What the kid really needs is an attitude adjustment. But it does not happen. Ever! The reluctant camper doesn’t care. His only thought is that he doesn’t want to go, and it wouldn’t matter to him if he were the only kid in North America who remained at home.
At all departure sites, the scene gives new meaning to the word chaos! For starters, every adult with a modicum of intelligence has to exercise vigilance if he doesn’t want to chance losing an eye or, at the very least, getting knocked in the head by a hockey stick. I’m happiest when I go to a bus departure for a camp that does not have a hockey curriculum. It’s safer. This is because I never saw any kid with a hockey stick who watched out for anyone standing nearby. No one is out of danger until those life-threatening things are stored in the luggage compartment below the bus.
The sticks don’t travel alone. Fathers, huffing and puffing and shvitzing in the hot sun, schlep duffel bags and cases of bottled water from their car trunks and load them into the same compartment. The mothers’ job is to give last-minute instructions and last-minute hugs and kisses. Anyone watching these festivities would think that parents and children won’t be reunited for another year. It would present a touching scene—if I didn’t know that visiting day was two and a half weeks away.
Some moms are teary-eyed and others, although trying not to show it, are inwardly bursting with joy. When I used to send my kids off to camp, I belonged to the latter group. I hugged and kissed my kids, but I never wept. One of my friends even used to gently touch my arm as a reminder for me to exercise restraint. She was afraid that, as soon as the bus door closed, I would do a hora right there at the bus stop.
I never expected to attend these departure sessions for grandchildren. But one never knows what will happen in life, and since visiting day is something I avoid like the plague, being at the send-off is mandatory for me! It’s well worth it. I remind myself that I won’t have to sit in traffic for hours on end in order to spend a day walking hilly campgrounds or worry about tripping over the inevitable holes that dot camp landscapes. There will be no day of fighting off bugs and flies and, best of all, no day of visiting those glorious bunks that are riddled with mold and mildew and smell like a cross between old sneakers and unwashed clothing.
Departure Day is not, however, totally stress-free. If the send-off spot is not in a parking lot, finding a nearby parking spot can be a challenge. The area traffic is horrific, thanks to the multitude of SUVs filled with those trying to park (or double-park) as close as possible. But the bigger challenge is what I face once I get there. I look for my family but, so far as I can tell, it doesn’t appear that anyone is looking for me. So I naively pull out my cell phone and try to call my daughter, who I know is there somewhere. It is of little value, since the deafening noise usually prevents her from hearing the ring tone or feeling the vibration. There is just too much excitement. And while all the moms are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with one another, there is something else afoot. They are not only saying their loving goodbyes to their darlings, but they’re also socializing with one another. “Hey, let’s go to Starbucks after the bus leaves.” So much for the heartbreak of missing the youngsters!
The part of this experience that most thrills me is that my loving grandchildren give me an obligatory goodbye kiss, turn back to their friends, and never look in my direction again. And my thought is always, “For this I got up and out of the house early?” But common sense returns in a flash, and I remind myself that I am lucky because, in comparison to the visiting-day experience, departure day is a breeze.
I don’t even mind inhaling the fumes as the huge buses pull away. I wave at bus number one, bus number two, and bus number three because I’m never sure which bus my grandkid is on. And I wave this goodbye in spite of the fact that I know he is not looking at me, much less waving back.
None of this changes from year to year. And my schedule doesn’t vary much, either. After the buses pull away, while the moms are doing their thing, I immediately head to a store to plunk down my hard-earned money on camp packages. For campers, receiving packages is an integral part of the camp experience and, from what I have heard, sad is the child who doesn’t receive them. As my guilty conscience is alive and well and thriving, woe to the psyche of the grandparent who doesn’t send at least one during the summer. That’s the way it is! v
Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at Savtahannah@aol.com or 516-902-3733.