By Mordechai Schmutter
Now that it’s almost Shavuos, it’s about time you started thinking about camp for your kids. Actually, it probably would have been better to start thinking about this earlier. But who had a chance? Between the winter we’ve had, and then Purim and Pesach, both of which seemed to fall out during the winter, who could even dream about summer? And then before Pesach was even over, we were already counting down to Shavuos.
But basically, if you don’t do it now, your kids won’t end up in a good camp, and then they might stay home all summer. This might sound nice, until you realize that even though they have the whole house to play in, the only place they want to play, noisily, is on the arm of whatever chair you’re sitting on.
But a lot of people send their kids to camp, because schools for some reason give summers off. As a teacher (I teach high school about 4–6 p.m.), I can’t complain. I like having two months off for two hours a day. I get a lot of stuff done during those two hours, by which I mean, “I get to help with supper.”
But as a parent, I’m not thrilled. Because I do have other work too, besides teaching. (I’m a writer.) And we parents can’t just take off work for the summer. Even the two hours that I’m gaining every day is not making up for the seven extra hours that my kids are home. I actually wish there’d be some kind of system where the teachers get off, but the kids don’t.
“But then who’s going to watch the kids?” you ask.
I guess they can watch each other. Though apparently that’s pretty much what camp is: Teenagers watching kids. There is also a lone adult thrown in, in the form of a head counselor, whose job it is to walk around with a megaphone and announce who’s doing what that day.
The two main activities in camp are singing songs and getting ices. There are also rebbeim in the mornings, but they make sure to hightail it out of there before the head counselor starts walking around with his megaphone and informing people, really loudly, that he can’t hear them.
Well, that’s day camp. When you send your child to sleepaway camp, the main activities are . . . well, who knows what they do. They’re not home, is all I can tell you. You see them one day of the month, mainly to bring food and money and personally witness the only time that month that they made their bed. And to do a lot of walking uphill, because all camps are on the side of a mountain, for some reason, which is why there’s no camp in the winter. All you know is that in addition to a megaphone, the head counselor also comes with a golf cart. Not that you blame him.
And when it comes to camp, there are more choices than ever before. For example, in addition to regular day camps, there is also something called “backyard camps.” Backyard camps are like day camps, except that they can’t call it a day camp, legally, because they don’t run for the whole day. It’s generally run by teenagers, with no parental involvement, and apparently they have to get rid of all the kids by 2:30, or the camp is going to melt. Never mind that you’re sending the kids in the first place so that you can go to work, and you generally work past 2:30.
That’s why a lot of parents pick sleepaway camp. The benefit of sleepaway camp, other than giving you a vacation from asking your kids, every five minutes, for the entire night, to go to bed, is that you don’t have to worry about kids coming home in the middle of the day when you’re not home, because for some reason, all these camps, especially those in backyards, decide they have to have off for every holiday, such as July Fourth, Tu b’Av, and Cinco de Agosto, and also they have to end at 12:30 on Fridays.
End at 12:30? Shabbos doesn’t start until 8. You’re a teenager. What do you need to do? Go home and make Shabbos? You’re already home!
Also, as far as camps are concerned, there are two “halves,” because two months is so long that we have to divide it in half. Officially, for each half, you pay for four weeks, which is actually two weeks plus the Friday of the week preceding them and the Monday of the week after them. Mathematically, once you take out holidays, that’s not even two weeks.
But on the other hand, backyard camps are generally cheaper than regular day camps, although the pool is way smaller. It’s clearly designed for people who are about 18 inches tall, and the morah has to fill it every day while the kids are showing up.
(They can’t keep the water in the pool from day to day, because it’s full of cut grass from several blocks around.)
In a regular day camp, however, there already is a pool, which is on the opposite side of town from wherever the camp is. The bigger camps are also more reliable when it comes to the number of hours and weeks. Also, the ices are better.
But if you’re looking to do something even cheaper, and you have a really nice boss (or none at all), you can do something called “mommy camp,” which is like keeping the kids at home, except that you do structured activities and you get to walk around with a megaphone.
These days, mommy camp is becoming more and more popular for people who don’t have a teenager that they can tell, “Either let your brother join your backyard camp, or find another backyard.”
The downside to mommy camp is that the kids never get to go home from camp. Basically, it’s for the mommy who doesn’t want to get anything else done over the summer and wants to pretend that all her regular jobs are fun camp activities. So a lot of mommy camp becomes “Let’s take a trip! To the supermarket!” as well as home-maintenance projects disguised as crafts like, “Let’s hem Totty’s pants!” You also get to schedule in some chol ha’moed-type trips, so that when chol ha’moed rolls around, you have no idea where to go that you haven’t been lately.
Which brings us to my new camp idea: round robins. My three-year-old son is in a round robin for playgroup this year, and it’s really working out, except that he almost never has school, because someone’s always sick. A round robin is where a bunch of mommies get together and decide that they’re going to take turns trying their hand at teaching, although the teaching is not nearly as important as letting the other mommies get their shopping done.
So that’s my camp idea: Get together with about four other families, and everyone watches everybody’s kids once a week.
Of course, once you’re factoring in older kids, it might mean there has to be a separate girls’ camp and a boys’ camp, which means that each mother is actually watching kids two days a week. Trips would also be complicated, because you can’t get all those kids into a van. Plus, you’re not going anywhere with that many kids without chaperones, especially since you’re not going to convince 25 kids to hold the stroller. Unless maybe there’s one day a week when everyone brings their kids to one destination for a “trip.” So now you’re up to watching kids three days a week. Four, if you count Sunday. Out of six. It might not be worth it.
My other idea is that all the parents should go to camp, and let the kids stay home and watch each other. That’s what “mommy camp” should be, you’d think. v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four 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.