We sent our youngest to sleepaway camp for the first time this year. And by “we” I mean “I,” and that’s because I also sent my husband to sleepaway camp this summer, also for the first time. With dad at camp with him, we assumed the adjustment would be easier.
By the end of week two, that did seem to be the case. After the first unhappy text from the bus on the way to camp, things definitely improved. About 40 minutes into the trip, the following text came through: “I think I might have a good time.” Phew, I thought. Crisis averted. The final text, before the camp took the kids’ phones, was short and sweet. “Bye, Mom.” What does that mean?? Now I had those two words to analyze until I received the first letter, which thankfully arrived on Friday of that same week.
That first letter wasn’t so comforting, but, I told myself, it was written on the very first night. Things must be better by now. But, what if they’re not??
Finally, after July 4, I received a letter that seemed to indicate that all was well. “I got your letters, and to answer your questions, yes, I made friends, the food is decent and we have a lot of free time.” Now I could rest easy.
Not so fast...because I suddenly remembered that the following Sunday would be the dreaded...visiting day. Yes, it would be an opportunity to see my child (and in my case, my husband) after two and a half weeks, but I recalled visiting days past, and none too fondly. The theme of all visiting days? Traffic and tears. That’s all I remembered, and it’s been about five years since the last one. I’m sure we had fun—I have the photos to prove it. Hiking, bumper boating, swimming in a local lake, ice cream, shopping. Fun, right? Not when the day ended with tears so intense you would have thought we were leaving our camper with the Wicked Witch from “The Wizard of Oz.” Or Lord Voldemort. Or...well, you get the picture.
And then there is the other reason I don’t like visiting day. Traffic. Five years ago I had enough foresight to pack not just lunch, but dinner also. Just in case, I told my family. It was a good thing I did. I have blocked out exactly how long our return trip took that night, but let’s just say it was full-on dark by the time we got home, and our younger two children were sound asleep. In fact, I think the older kids were sleeping as well. And maybe my husband. No, he was driving. He has infinite patience in traffic. But I digress...While we had dinner in the car, the trip was so long that we ran out of food...and snacks...and drinks. So maybe it was good that the kids fell asleep.
So that is what I remembered, and I was not looking forward to a repeat performance.
But, I told myself, you will get to spend the day together. So I focused on being excited to see my child and husband. Stay positive, I told myself. Maybe it won’t be so bad this year…
And it wasn’t.
Here I sit, writing about visiting day 2018, not four hours after we left camp. Less than four hours later, did you catch that? It is barely dark out, and we are already home, relaxing and having dinner. How is that possible? What happened to the traffic? I have no idea, and I will not question it, but I will certainly appreciate every second that we are at home rather than still on the road. Fifteen minutes of traffic. That’s it. It was a Nine Days miracle.
The day began—at 6 a.m.—with some concerns about the forecasted thunderstorms at camp: a 60 percent chance. Well, that means a 40 percent chance of no storms, I thought. Best to be prepared, though, so we all brought rain gear, just in case.
And rain it did, for the first hour of our drive to camp. By rain, I mean double wiper speed torrential downpour. A lot of cars pulled over on the highway to wait out the storm, but not ours. We had to get to visiting day. Our family was waiting.
After that first hour, the rain stopped and the skies cleared, and by the time we got to camp the sun was out and it was summertime hot.
The reunion was perfect. We saw our camper’s bunk and my husband’s cabin. We decided to leave the camp grounds because “I haven’t been in a car in almost three weeks,” so off we went to Walmart, along with probably every other camp family that was visiting children that day. Did I mention there are at least six Jewish camps in the area, and all of them had visiting day on the same day? Let’s just say that the kippot in Walmart outnumbered the shopping carts by a large margin.
Shopping was followed by ice cream, and then we headed back to camp. Fully expecting a teary goodbye, I was not surprised when my youngest got a bit quiet on the return trip. Uh oh, I thought. Here it comes.
But it didn’t. Back at camp, we brought our purchases to the bunk, and shortly thereafter it was time to say goodbye. With hugs all around, we said, “See you in four weeks,” and prepared to leave. The look on the face of my youngest had me a little concerned. Will the tears come now? I wondered with trepidation.
And then—the second Nine Days miracle of the day—from out of nowhere, our camper’s counselor appeared. I would like to give a shout-out to this counselor, who passed us by with a casual, “Hey, we’re going to play some basketball. Why don’t you come?” It was almost like it was scripted. With a smile and a wave, they went off together.
It was a perfect day. No tears, no traffic, and we didn’t run out of food or water on the trip home. The kids still slept in the car, but that gave me time to rethink the theme of this article, which was originally titled “I’ve Got the Visiting Day Blues.”
And for those of you who were concerned, my husband has adjusted just fine and did not shed a tear on visiting day either.
By Jill Kirsch