Shabbat-O-Gram Week 5
Dear parents and friends,
If you’ve never been a camper yourself, you may find it strange when kids refer to camp as their “second home.” How can an old bunk of exposed wood, full of other kids’ (often smelly!) stuff compete with their spacious, well-ventilated, comfortable rooms in your houses? What is it about camp that makes sleeping with ten other kids and no Netflix feel so cozy?
It’s hard to put your finger on it, especially when it doesn’t always feel that way right away. The adjustment to living at camp can be hard. Other kids can be annoying, especially when living together 24/7, and you can’t escape to your own bedroom and shut the door. The habits of other kids can start to grate on your nerves, and by the 10th time the camper next to you leaves their wet towel on your bed, all the kind words you practiced at home for these moments have fallen out of your brain, and all you can muster up is “GET YOUR TOWEL OFF MY BED!” Bunkmates see each other at their worst – their most tired, their saddest, when they’re not feeling well. So how does it happen? How and when does camp start to feel like home?
It must have been sometime this week, because when the kids piled off the buses Thursday evening after an amazing day at Funtown Spashtown, the group of Olim girls I was near yelled out, “We’re HOME!!” One turned to the other and said, “That was SO FUN! And it’s so good to be home!” They laughed about how funny that sounded, because as new campers, it was the first time they had experienced that feeling, of leaving camp and coming back, and feeling like they were coming home. But as soon as they said it, they repeated it, and agreed that it sounded just right.
It sounded right, because while bunkmates do see each other at their worst, they also get the rewards of knowing each other inside and out. We talk with campers on the first day at Kingswood about how your bunk is your family at camp. How even though your siblings may annoy you, you still love them and always have their backs. We say that just like our real siblings, bunkmates always need to have each other’s backs, because that’s what family does. Bunkmates are “in it” together – the hard, the fun, the wins, the losses, the inside jokes. The bonds that develop between campers living together in a bunk are different from other relationships kids have experienced, and being over a week into Second Session, everyone at camp has begun to feel and understand the power of these relationships.
Campers get to celebrate each other’s successes, like this morning when I was on the Swim Dock with the kids who had woken up early to swim in today’s optional Big Swim. They were standing on the dock clapping for each other as their bunkmates approached the Swim Dock from the Canoe & Kayak Dock and continued past to the Sail & Ski Dock, with a staff boat alongside each of them in case they needed to take a break. Each camper was beaming as they climbed up the ladder to get out of the lake, so proud of having completed the swim, with their friends there to celebrate their victory.
I saw camp start to feel like home at Casino Night earlier in the week when bunks came together at the end of the night to pool their tickets for auction prizes. For the all-camp evening program, the Old Rec had been converted into a vintage casino complete with staff dressed up as lounge singers, card dealers and bouncers. Campers could win tickets for games ranging from arm wrestling to Go Fish. The program ended with an auction to win different shared bunk experiences, like a special sunset tubing session or a bedtime story for the bunk by a staff member of their choice. The program was last Saturday, just three days after campers had arrived, which made it all the sweeter to watch bunks coming together with excitement about which prize to go for, when just a few days earlier they had arrived at Camp Kingswood as strangers.
I saw camp starting to feel like home a few days after that, when B7 came to my cabin to redeem their prize of ‘Cookies & Milk in Jodi’s Cabin.’ They had just returned from their canoe trip, and they were sharing stories of canoeing down the river and making dinner and s’mores over the campfire. You could see and hear how the trip had brought them all closer, as they shared stories of moments that showed trust and bravery.
Feeling at home is about feeling safe and trusting the people around you, and it’s also about being able to relax and be yourself. Campers shared how important that is for them at camp earlier this week at our Girls’ Campfire and Guys’ Campfires for our 9th – 11th grade campers. We talked about what it means to be the oldest campers in camp, and how much younger campers look up to them. Campers talked about what makes them feel so at home at Kingswood, and how they can create that same feeling of safe space for the whole camp community as the role models for younger kids. At the Girls’ Campfire, it was powerful for the 9th graders to hear the 11th graders talking about camp friends being their truest friends, the ones who they feel the most themselves around, and the ones they never feel the need to impress. They talked about the stress and anxiety caused by social media when they’re not at camp, and how relieved they are at camp to not constantly feel the need to keep up. They shared how stressed they feel at home by gossip and by the need to dress or do their hair a certain way, and how the values at camp create such a different sense for them of what’s important and what isn’t. The girls talked about how much they cherish the community and values of camp, and how to them, that’s what makes camp feel like their second home.
The unit of Tsofim is leading Shabbat this week, and they’ve been talking at services last night and this morning about intentions. Campers have been sharing their creative writings on the theme, and one camper shared this morning how when you really mean something, others can feel it that much more. She said that that’s why she feels so connected to people at camp – because friends here really mean what they say, and counselors do what they say they’ll do. While camp isn’t nearly perfect, this comment filled me with so much pride. I love that about camp – we live here with a deep sense of intentionality and purpose, and campers recognize how special that is, and how much that contributes to the sense of feeling at home here.
This week, Chalutzim and Olim will head out for their camping trips, and once again these campers will have the experience of returning “home” to Kingswood. While they’ll eventually cherish their return to your actual home at the end of the session, for now, feeling at home at camp is the best feeling in the world. 🙂
Shabbat shalom, from our home to yours,