You know you’re starting to get old when you preface an anecdote with “When I was a kid.” So here I am getting old as I begin by saying – When I was a kid in camp a couple of decades ago there was something called a letter. One would write a note to someone else, place it in an envelope, seal it, put something called a stamp on it, and put it in the mailbox. Magically, it would show up at the intended address a few days later.
Each night at supper in camp, letters would be dropped off at every table, and the counselor would disseminate them. As campers we waited excitedly to receive a letter, especially because it might include some money.
One summer on the first night of camp, a boy in my bunk received a letter. I couldn’t believe it. We had barely finished unpacking; how did he already receive a letter? He showed me the letter. It was from his father. His father wrote “Actually, you’re sleeping in your bed and aren’t leaving to camp until tomorrow. But I miss you already knowing that you will be leaving.”
I don’t remember if there was any money in the letter, but I do remember being very impressed with the father’s sentiment.
This week another wonderful season has begun here at Camp Dora Golding. Over 600 campers arrived anticipating a summer of fun and sun. As a parent I can appreciate how difficult it is to send away a child for a few weeks to live away from home.
In his book Homesick and Happy, Michael Thomson makes a strong case for the benefits of sending children to overnight camp. He begins by listing eight things that we as parents cannot do for our children (although we wish we could): We cannot make our children happy, give them high self-esteem, make friends for them, act as their manager or coach, force their growth, completely shield them from social media, keep them perfectly safe, or make them independent.
Part of parenting entails that we figure out the delicate balance between setting appropriate and vital limits and giving them necessary space to make their own decisions, and often their own mistakes. Sending a child to overnight camp sends a strong message of trust and confidence in the child’s ability.
Rabbi David Ashear relates that there is a row of houses in Lakewood, New Jersey, that all share the same basic landscaping, including a tree planted in the same location at around the same time.
During Superstorm Sandy in October 2012 some trees fell, while others did not. A bit of investigation revealed that the trees that were watered with automatic sprinkler systems collapsed, but those that were not watered remained firmly in place.
The trees that were not watered with sprinklers had to develop deeper roots into the ground to ensure that they would receive the nutrients and water they needed. The trees that received the automatic sprinkling, however, did not need to develop such deep roots and were more easily felled during the storm.
Parents who spoil their children and give in to their every whim may seem to be showing greater love for their children. But with time it becomes clear that they are stifling their children’s growth preventing them from developing the deeper roots that will help them withstand the tempests of life.
Although overnight camp may not be appropriate for every child, the challenge to allow children space to develop on their own and gain their own life experience definitely is. Every parent wants their children to be able to develop roots that penetrate deeply, well beneath the superficial surface.