It’s that time of year again. As the school year winds down, with students knee deep in finals and reports and the teachers overloaded with papers to mark, thoughts inevitably turn to summer.
For those of us who are sending children to camp, the end of the school year also means the appearance of the lists. These dreaded lists were originally printed as guidelines, to help families prepare and pack their children’s things. What they have evolved into, however, is a bounty for the stores that cater to our children’s “needs.”
Back in the day, preparing for camp was very different. Throughout the year, if, say, you got some ink on a blouse and the stain did not come out, you couldn’t wear it to school anymore, so what did you do with it? You put it away for camp. If one sheet or pillowcase tore, and the linen set was no longer complete, it too went into the camp box.
Who cared if your blouse was a little faded or your shirt had a small tear? Everyone else wore the same kind of clothing in camp.
Part of the ritual of preparing for camp was hauling the big black trunk up from storage. Unless one was super organized, the search for the key came next. Camps, too, had to have a ring full of keys to match every possible type of trunk lock.
Today’s camps are smarter. Storing those trunks took up a lot of space, space that could be put to better use. Now most camps require soft duffel bags only.
Did we go to camp with our own set of drawers? Did it ever occur to anyone to take beach chairs, bins, fans or hair dryers to camp? Did anyone even think of organizing the bunk to chip in to buy a mini refrigerator?
Most schools today have uniforms, and kids certainly cannot wear any part of that uniform when out of school. Thus, before heading to camp, a new wardrobe must be purchased. Of course it has to consist of the latest styles, but it also has to conform to that particular camp’s rules and regulations. One camp does not allow T-shirts, another requires the shirts to have collars. Shabbat clothing in camp raises its own issues. Some camps have the rule of white blouses and dark skirts or pants, because otherwise the camp would have to build more closets. Of course everyone also has to buy the camp shirt, which serves as a kind of uniform to be worn on special occasions.
Footwear alone can fill an entire box or bag. Weekday shoes, a few pairs of sneakers, crocs for the pool, flip flops for the shower, rain boots and Shabbat shoes are just the beginning of that list.
The toiletry list is also much more expansive than the toothpaste, shampoo and soap we packed into our trunks. Of course this also comes with holders of all sizes and shapes, some of which are of dubious practicality.
Today, when sending a child to camp for the first time, you take him/her to the linen store (or the Amazon website) to pick a brand new set. Then you add a summer quilt or comforter. The towels of course have to match the set, and they have to come in all sizes.
Even snacks have evolved into a whole industry. In camps that allow it, an underbed box goes to camp filled with junk food. What happened to the camp canteen? Did it cease to exist? Is it uncool to purchase snacks from the canteen?
And don’t the canteens sell drinks, including bottled water? Why do kids need to bring a 24-pack of bottled water? It is a bit cheaper to buy the water when it’s on sale in the local supermarket, but what about water fountains or water coolers? Some camps now ban bottled water from their trucks, as the cases take up too much space. The kids who come to camp with their parents, though, always bring those 24-pack cases.
Wishing one and all a wonderful summer filled with wholesome fun and cherished memories.
By P. Samuels