A bittersweet parenting moment has arrived. My 10-year-old son will be embarking on his first vacation without parents this summer. That’s what he called sleepover camp when we first talked about it last year.
My husband attended the same camp for seven years, followed by another four years on staff. When he’s not working or parenting, chances are he’s talking to a camp friend, reading about camp events or telling someone about camp. If I gave him the go ahead, I’m pretty sure he’d move back into cabin 19. This summer, my husband will live vicariously through our son as he begins his camp journey on the very same grounds that my husband grew up on.
There’s no question that my son is excited, too, but his excitement is sprinkled with a healthy amount of unease.
When we talk about camp, he questions if he’ll be able to do everything on his own. I’m not sure he fully understands the idea of a laundry service, but if he wants to learn how to do laundry in preparation for camp, I’m totally OK with that! He’ll be ecstatic to find himself among other boys who don’t know what a rinse cycle is and who pull up the bed covers and call it a day.
He often wonders if he’ll remember to brush his teeth or wear his retainer. There’s also some concern over being separated from the group, but I assure him the counselors won’t let that happen.
Last summer, my son visited camp for the first time with my husband. They toured the grounds, went for a swim, met other kids his age and, most importantly, ate in the dining commons. Latkes were on the menu that day and apparently, they were the best damn latkes he’s ever had. These latkes continue to come up during conversation over a year later and have made all the difference when it comes to mentally preparing for camp. I will assure him as much as I can, but any jitters fizzle as soon as he remembers there will be a delicious, warm, salty treat waiting for him in the dining commons.
His two best friends are attending camp with him (what could be better? Vacation without parents WITH your two best friends! Sign me up!). I recently overheard them discussing camp and, obviously, the most important topic of discussion was the menu. They spouted off a list of foods that may or may not be offered at camp like hot dogs, steak and cheeseburgers. (I hate to break it to them, but I’m pretty sure we’re dealing with a kosher-style kitchen, so no, there will not be cheeseburgers). But then, in a very serious tone, my son added, “Don’t worry, they have latkes.” And with that, all was good in the world. Something as simple as a Jewish comfort food can provide these kids with the contentment they need to be away from home for the very first time.
I am so thankful that my son will have the experience of a Jewish sleepover camp. These summers can play a huge role in shaping his personality, his interests and his Jewish identity. But more importantly, I hope the chef is prepared to cook a year’s supply of latkes for the month of July.
As for me, I’m sure I’ll have moments during quiet, summer evenings where I sit and wonder what he’s doing: whether he’s eating enough fruits and vegetables, flossing his teeth or changing his sheets. But mostly, I’ll wonder if he’s happy. In these moments, as I miss his high energy giggles and his frequent, curious questions, I’ll know he’s doing just fine, because as he often reminds me, they’ve got latkes. And so even if I’m not the one eating them, those best damn latkes in the world help calm my own Jewish mom anxieties, too.
Lindsay Karp is a contributing writer to Kveller and Kiddish magazine.