By Hannah Reich Berman
On the outside chance there is anyone left in this hemisphere that is unaware of this, there is a new season upon us. It is known as package-sending season! Camp bus-departure day is behind us and visiting day looms ahead of us. But not for me—since I don’t plan to subject myself to that particular brand of torture again. My first foray to a camp visiting day, 11 years ago, was also my last. I have never repeated it. But, as my mom often said, a mother’s work is never done. Her statement wasn’t original; it is often said as part of the longer version, “A man’s work is from sun to sun, but a mother’s work is never done.”
Regardless of its origination, the point is that it is true. I would like to propose a different quote: “A grandmother’s love is not enough; she must remember to send some stuff.” This refers to the meshugas of sending camp packages. The rules are clear: grandfathers are exempt but grandmothers must send packages, and they must be sent via the U.S. mail. I learned that only recently. Prior to last year, I didn’t know I was supposed to send packages. Nobody informed me that it was a requirement, so I thought weekly letters were good enough. Silly me!
Then I learned that sending packages was part of my job description as a grandmother. Wanting to do the right thing, I sent a package to each grandchild. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of sending the packages via their parents. I figured it made sense. My daughters and their husbands were going up to see the youngsters on visiting day, so it seemed like a good idea to have them take my packages for the kiddies along with them. Bad move! I should have known better, because when it comes to pleasing children, common sense has nothing to do with anything.
That was last year. This year I know better. That’s because, before the youngsters left, they advised me that not only is it incumbent upon all grandmothers to send packages, but these packages should arrive by mail, not in mom and dad’s car. I smiled in agreement, although I had no idea why I was smiling because I certainly didn’t agree. Upon reflection, I assume that campers want their bunkmates to know that they got a package in the mail. It’s part of a kid’s summer joy. So I knew I would follow the plan.
Nobody told me what to send. Apparently the kids had confidence in me and expected that I would come up with creative toys, games, and treats, without being guided. Great! Nothing could be more thrilling than trying to figure out what types of comic books, riddle books, or puzzle books each child would like. Who wouldn’t love trying to figure that out? Wanting to get this inevitable shopping excursion over with, 15 minutes after the camp buses left, I headed into a store that sold these things. After what seemed like an eternity of browsing and being unable to make a single decision about what to buy, I decided to ask the storeowner for help. I figured, why make myself meshugeh?
It seemed like I had made a wise move, because he appeared more than willing to help me. I chalked his attitude up to him being a pleasant soul, until I realized that he was accommodating because he would be well paid for his effort. Nevertheless, I was thrilled to have his assistance. Breathing a sigh of relief, I told him that I needed things for two boys, ages 14 and 15, and for three girls, ages 10, 13, and 15. Seeing dollar signs in front of his eyes, the gentleman smiled and began pulling things off the shelves, while assuring me that the kids would love this stuff.
For a few brief moments, I was happily willing to rely on the fact that he knew what he was talking about. But it eventually occurred to me that he did not know my grandkids. He didn’t know how religious they are or where their interests lie. So I decided to make the selections myself after all. Oh, happy day! Ignoring the look of frustration on his face, I put back every item he had selected and started from scratch. Ninety exhausting minutes later, I was done. I paid for the items, left the store, and headed for the supermarket. The kids needed food!
I didn’t know why they need it (I still don’t know why), but I shopped for snacks. Chocolate was out, since it would melt in the summer heat. So I filled my wagon with red licorice and every chewy candy I could get my hands on. Having observed my grandchildren’s eating habits, I knew that they loved sour sweets. That’s baffling because if anyone demanded that a kid eat a fruit or a vegetable even half as sour as those candies, they would scream bloody murder, then seal their mouths shut and refuse to eat it. But give them colorful pieces of chewy candy that look like worms and, sour or not, they adore the stuff. Go figure!
Chips and pretzels were not an option. They would be crushed beyond recognition unless I opted to send everything in a box—which I did not intend to do. Instead, I bought popcorn, thinking that, since popcorn is soft, it wouldn’t matter if the pieces got a little smushed! I doubted the kids would consider popcorn much of a treat, but I intended to send it anyhow.
After the candy and popcorn purchases, I felt dissatisfied. My packages seemed to be somewhat lacking. So I decided to send at least one more creative gift. Bone-weary though I was, I headed back to the store where I had bought the comic books and spent another hour hunting for one or two more gifts for each kid. There went another hour of my life that I will never get back!
After I got everything home, I felt a vague sense of familiarity. It wasn’t exactly déjà vu. It was simply the memory of those CARE packages that I had heard so much about as a child. Following World War II, an international relief organization known as CARE (Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe) provided emergency relief to people in Europe who might be starving. To the best of my knowledge, there has been no recent war up in the Catskills, the Poconos, or the Adirondacks. But who knows? Maybe I missed it. My packages might be important.
Also, as far as I know, there isn’t a single kid at a camp who is suffering from starvation, so it must be an emotional void that needs to be filled. And my gut tells me that it isn’t filled by receiving warm socks or canned vegetables. Only junk food, games, toys, and comic books can do it. The math is simple: parents spend thousands of dollars to send kids to camp + grandparents send packages = kids have a good summer. I question the equation but have yet to find an answer. So I do what I have to do. 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