by Amy Sessler Powell
As I prepare for Visiting Day at Camp Tevya in Brookline, N.H., I reflected on my camp pickup from last summer.
I retrieved my camper shortly after we published our summer issue of 614: Jewish Camp Flashbacks. While I read the issue and reflected on my own camp experiences, I was fortunate to be able to juxtapose those with my daughter’s formation of her own camp memories.
I could see that she was immersed in the bubble that only summer camp can create, plugging into longtime traditions and experiencing all that would create her own rich experiences to draw on throughout her life.
But first, I doled out the tissues. I arrived to greet red-eyed campers, sleepless from staying up during their last night, teary with the thoughts of waking up the next morning without so many close friends. After the hugs, after the trail of girls grabbing the car as Claire sobbed quietly, she saw from the car window that some of the counselors started to hose off and pack up the dance mats. She doesn’t dance, never has, no matter.
“They’re cleaning up camp!” she cried with a new round of sobs wracking her body.
When she was able to speak again, she said through tears, “I never want it to end and I have only one summer left.”
I was nearly in tears myself at the emotion of it all. This is exactly what parents want, but it still seemed so sad. When we got home, things mentioned in extremely brief letters, received proper illumination.
A letter that read, “I got the Yarden bandana. The boys will tell you what it means,” was explained. Her three older brothers, Tevya alumni themselves, gathered around the dirty Ziplock bag. The frayed, smelly and filthy bandana within was removed and unfolded. The sacred object contained the names of Color War captains since 1993, before any of my children were born. The bag held a dried up piece of paper with names, each new captain adding their own. With it were good luck charms from captains past: a chalk hippo, a small piece of yellow feather boa, golden beads and other items.
My four children marveled at the names, discussed those they recognized. My daughter yearns to add her name to the list this year. The “bandana” is an endorsement of her leadership from last summer’s color war captains, but by no means a sure thing. They don’t make the decision. Even if she garners the top honor, she might get assigned to a different color war team. She was simply the caretaker of this sacred relic for the entire year. Next session, she will pass it to the current Yarden captains who will in turn pass it to new campers in the second oldest age group.
When the bandana was put away, she unpacked a piece of frayed nylon rope. I saw that this too would be important. “I got the waterskiing award!” she shared, symbolized by a piece of old towrope. My son, Jake, a good skier who coveted the award but always skied in the shadow of someone much better, nodded with pride that this frayed rope was in our family at last.
My daughter is dipping into a deep tradition. She respects these objects and the meaning behind them. My sons, who had no use for her state championship youth basketball games or other accomplishments at home, kvell in her participation in this beloved shared community. One son found an excuse to go to camp one year after he had aged out to warm up his sister for a four-square tournament, one for which she had earned a coveted spot.
Camp may be even more important than ever. It is still electronics-free. It is still somewhat of a meritocracy, albeit with multiple ways to succeed. Not everyone makes color war captain or the travel teams. If you don’t care for the athletic events in color war, there is music, art and silliness. Everyone has an equal chance to succeed at feeding Jell-O to a blindfolded teammate.
One year, my daughter put off camp a month to participate in a softball all-star team. I’m not sure it was her best decision, but it’s past. At the time, I remember one dad barging into the coach’s huddle to advocate for his daughter to bat in the leadoff position.
Not possible at camp. There, the kids have to advocate for themselves and they have multiple opportunities to learn how. When there are multiple paths, campers put forth their best selves, aspiring to success, modeling leadership for the younger camp community and take pride in passing on the traditions to a new generation. These are great lessons to take into life after camp. These are the memories she will bring to new experiences.