By Mordechai Schmutter
As someone who’s gone on three overnights with my sons’ day camp (fifth and sixth grades), I’ve learned that a responsible chaperone is one who makes a checklist. Not just of things to remember to bring (boys, first-aid kit, food) and things to remember to bring home (boys, first-aid kit, random towels), but also of things that apparently have to happen. On every trip.
Something bad will happen to the van(s). The first time I went, the camp sent a series of vans, which was the main reason we had chaperones. There was me, there was the head counselor, and there was another father, who was also a Hatzalah guy. (In any emergency situation, you want to have a Hatzalah guy, a head counselor, and whatever it is that I am.)
So we were going to the JCC for a night swim, and it was raining, which might make you question why we were bothering to go to swim, and I was circling the block in a van I could barely maneuver, trying to find the entrance to the parking lot, but all I could find was the exit, and I could see kids getting out of the other vans because Mr. Hatzalah Guy had somehow gotten his van to every single destination on the itinerary before us, so I went for it. But what I didn’t see was that there were spikes on the ground in front of the exit. I don’t know why a JCC in Pennsylvania is so paranoid about people coming in the wrong way that they have to put down spikes. I also don’t know how I managed to pop only one tire. But it’s a good thing I did, because the van had only one spare, and it took me the entire time the kids were swimming to figure out where it was. But this is why you have two chaperones.
The other reason you have two chaperones is so the first one will be in good company. Because the next morning, the other chaperone was backing into a parking spot near the shul, and he had his bike rack on the back of his van, propped up against his window, and he misjudged the amount of space between his van and the wall of the shul, and baruch Hashem his window gave way and he didn’t just back straight into the shul.
In short, no damage the kids caused on any of the trips was as bad as the damage the chaperones caused, except on my second overnight, when one of the kids unplugged a freezer containing $1,000 worth of ice cream.
Point is, I had to drive home on a donut, and the other guy had to drive home with a garbage bag over the window so he wouldn’t lose yarmulkes. Which brings us to #2:
You will lose yarmulkes. On my most recent trip, one kid lost a yarmulke on the bus and spent most of the way there trying to find it. He lost it because the windows were open, because every school bus in existence was built before the invention of air conditioning. And mufflers. And shock absorbers.
But at least I found it after everyone left the bus. Someone else lost a yarmulke later, and I didn’t notice until the next morning when we were getting into the bus after Shacharis. In Lakewood.
I’m like, “You’re not wearing a yarmulke? In Lakewood?”
And he’s like, “Yeah, I lost it last night during swimming.”
We swam more than once. We went to a place that had pools, a lake, boating, mini golf, a petting zoo, a hockey rink, and more, and I’d spent the entire evening collecting towels and bringing them back to the gym, where we were sleeping. These kids left towels everywhere. They must have brought along four or five towels apiece. Or maybe I was picking up towels from previous camps that hadn’t brought along enough chaperones.
And yes, we took a bus this time. But when you take buses—
The driver will keep threatening to pull over. The kids weren’t misbehaving, but they did keep getting up out of excitement and because school buses don’t have mandatory seatbelt laws, because they don’t move fast enough. And every time the driver threatened to pull over, we had to turn around and tell the kid to stop. And by “we” I mean “the counselors,” because I don’t know anyone’s names. I can just say, “Sit down,” but the kid standing would say, “I didn’t know you were talking to me.”
“I was talking to everyone. I’m not picking on one guy. Also, I don’t know your name.”
“My name’s on my yarmulke.”
“You’re not wearing your yarmulke.”
“I know. I’m looking for it.”
This is not to say I didn’t have responsibilities.
You will have responsibilities. When you sign up to be a chaperone, you’re thinking you’ll go boating, swimming, night swimming, tire replacing . . . And then, right before you leave, you’re handed a list: Two guys are gluten-free, one is celiac, one is hypoglycemic, and one might have seizures.
So I should spend the whole trip davening?
This isn’t something I had to think about the first time I chaperoned, when there was a Hatzalah guy present. But this time, I outranked every other adult by at least 15 years.
And apparently, someone in the office had a bright idea to send out a form before the overnight, asking the parents what kinds of medical issues their child has.
One mother wrote, “My son has ADHD. He needs redirection to stay on task and prepare his belongings.” Yeah, so does everyone. Half the parents wrote “ADHD.” Do you want to see my pile of towels?
And a couple of mothers wrote, “My son can’t fall asleep in a room with noise. Can you find a separate room for him?” OK, #1, they’re going to sleep at two in the morning. He’ll fall asleep if he’s tired. And #2, there is a side room—I slept in it with a couple of counselors and not one of the kids requested to sleep in there, despite our announcement that they could.
And then there was a bag of medications I had to administer at specific times, even though I didn’t know anyone’s names. So basically, their lives were 50% relying on me and 50% on the sense of self-preservation that I hoped they had.
But some kids have serious allergies. One mother wrote that her son is allergic to kiwi, apples, pineapples, and sesame. How healthy do you think the food is that we’re going to be feeding them? We’re having Slurpees for breakfast.
The food will be kid-friendly. And by “kid friendly,” I mean things that an adult should probably not be eating. In general, if you want anything that’s a little healthier, you have to bring it yourself. For example, on my second trip, the counselors decided to have a secret barbecue after the kids were down and the head counselor was stuck in the gym tripping over kids and saying “Shh” for three hours.
That was when I saved their lives.
The counselors need chaperones too. The JC who was grilling the chicken ate a piece and then said, “A little pink in the middle means it’s rare, right?”
And I said, “No, that could give you salmonella.”
It’s a good thing we brought chaperones.
So the whole rest of the night, he was panicking: “What am I gonna do? Am I gonna die?”
And meanwhile, the camp director, who didn’t come along, was sending out an e‑mail to the parents that said, “All’s well.” How does he know all’s well? For all he knows, all the counselors just got food poisoning. Who’s gonna take care of the kids?
This is why you need extra adults—in case some of them get hurt. And that reminds me . . .
Someone will get hurt. If you’re lucky, it will be a counselor. On my last trip, one counselor fell off the boat dock. Backwards. And one of the JCs got hit in the face with a hockey stick. And he’s a little guy, almost camper height. So that was close.
And speaking of adults getting hurt . . .
Sleeping on the floor is not for adults. Especially those of us with bad backs. Now everyone says, “Well, you should lie on the floor; it’s supposed to be good for your back.” But:
- Not always, and
- I sleep on my side.
So for my last trip, I decided to buy my very first air mattress. And I learned a valuable lesson:
- Don’t inflate your bed in the dark. Number one, the pump is noisy, and if you’re in the “quiet room,” people will complain. Mostly counselors. And #2, I had the pump going for ten minutes before someone figured out that I had the mattress plugged into the “deflate” side. Why is there even a “deflate” side? I can deflate it just by sleeping.
But for some reason, kids can sleep on the floor. Maybe it’s because:
The kids don’t actually go to sleep. I don’t know if it’s the excitement or the diet or the fact that they’re sleeping in a room full of echoes, but no one goes to sleep. I’m not sure why we bother packing sleeping bags. They just make the bus more crowded, and the only people who sleep on the bus are the counselors.
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of five books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.