Sisterhood Blog

Sleep-Away Camp: My Daughter, My Self

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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Last week, we put our 10-year-old daughter, our middle child, on the bus for her first overnight camp experience. Though she didn’t know any other girls at camp, as she boarded the bus she gave me a smile electric with excitement.

She is doubtlessly doing fine. I, however, am having some separation anxiety. I recall from when my 15-year-old son went to overnight camp the first time how painful it was — for me. He had a good time. By his second summer overnight camp experience, though, I was just happy to have the break.

Expert advice I’ve read says not to tell the camper how much you are missing her — rather focus on the fun she’s (hopefully) having.

Personally, I hated camp. I truly never had a good time. I lacked confidence, coordination and struggled to manage getting around the campgrounds, especially at night. We didn’t know it at the time, but I was legally blind — good reason not to be able to cope on those night hikes, but at the time I just chalked it up as one more camp thing I was lousy at.

Bookish, blindish, content to stay on my bunk all day reading and hoping someone would be nice to me. Not much has changed in the intervening decades, actually. Lest I over-identify with my daughter, however, I must remind myself that she is a very different child than I was. Though a bit shy at the outset, she is a tremendously social creature with an innate gift for relationships and very much “in her body,” good at sports and all manner of group activities.

In all likelihood, my delicious daughter will do great at camp.

Hopefully she won’t meet the girl-equivalent of author A.J. Jacobs, who in this video belatedly apologizes to Scott Blonkin for tormenting him when they were at sleep-away camp.

Next year, we hope to send our youngest to overnight camp, too. When I wondered aloud, to my husband, what we’ll do with ourselves if they’re all gone for part of the summer, he quickly said “Paris!” Sounds good to me.

In the meantime, here’s some chuckle-worthy blog reading about Jewish summer camps from hell.

Time to run. I’ve got to assemble and mail a care package that will, within the contents of one brown box, communicate to my new camper that she is loved and missed (but not too much, don’t want to worry her, after all), and that her mommy knows the exact perfect thing to send her to make her happy and ensure continued popularity with her bunkmates.

The hard salamis my Oma sent me, back in the day, didn’t exactly endear me to my cabin-mates, though I did feel loved as I looked at it dangling from the bottom of the bunk above me.

Hopefully I’ll come up with something a little less pungent.

Rich Klein Mon. Aug 3, 2009

Hey Debra. Sorry you had such a bad time at camp. You know what? I had some very rough times myself but a few years ago I realized that I also had some good times. And many of the old campers from 30+ years ago, including the ones who picked on me, are now really good friends. For another point of view, check out, a site created just a few months ago. Or the Catskills Intercamp Games group on Facebook.

Leah Berkenwald Mon. Aug 3, 2009

Oh, sleep-away camp. I remember when my parents sent me away for the first time! I was deep into my awkward phase and bad at archery, rope climbs, and every other physical activity we did.

When my parents picked my brother and I up, I could tell they had been incredibly worried about us being homesick and were feeling guilty for sending us away (they brought gifts).

I had a great time in the end, but I'm glad my parents were so nervous. I think I might have felt unloved if they weren't!

Jewesses With Attitude

Sarah Mon. Aug 3, 2009

I went away to camp for four years before I realized I didn't like it at all.

Best care-package ingredients, that did endear me to bunk-mates (about the only thing that did): graham crackers and peanut butter and marshmallow fluff. (Probably some sort of chocolate, too, but the memories are (thank G-d) fading. Maybe hershey's kisses? Don't know how that would go on a graham cracker...)

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