Summer Camp by Dan Butler

First day of camp. Big camp. Impeccable grounds. Jewish Federation camp. New York Jewish Federation. 420 miles from home. Catskill mountains. (O.K., Catskill Hills; if you're from Iowa you'd think they are mountains. Then again, nobody from Iowa has ever been to the Catskills.) Farms and tractors and trees and hotels and bungalow colonies (What’s that? Trust me, you’re not interested.) And camps. Jewish camps. And kosher hamburger joints. And kosher pizza parlors. And kosher go-kart tracks. And kosher batting cages. New York. Much different from America. But in the Catskills, with a slower pace and air you can breathe without chewing first, it's hard to tell that the state and the city are on the same planet.

Night before camp. Long trip. My wife, who had been able to manage five kids, a job, packing three kids for camp, lists, emergencies (one kid’s broken elbow, if you need an example) and a constant stream of house-guests, reaching her limit when the first bug hit our windshield at a combined air speed of 185 knots as we raced through the night to our nine year old’s appointment with camping destiny.

She insisted that we stop and give the creature a proper burial. And clean the windshield. But it was our misfortune to be accompanied on our journey by a squadron of humming bird-sized kamikaze bugs whose internal structure resembled pizza with the works and had the consistency of Krazy Glue. Long trip. Eventually she fell asleep to the THWAP of ultimate sacrifice entomology-style every three seconds. But she wasn't happy about it... .

Camp time. Nervous parents. Father has spent last month telling camp stories. ‘Father was BIG baseball star. Father was LEAD in camp play. Father was BEST all-around camper. Father was camp’s FASTEST swimmer. FATHER IS BIG LIAR. Father was camp STRIKE-OUT king. Father’s LISP made it necessary to give him part in play with no “S” sounds. Father shared his food packages from home with counselor. Small steps from “good sport" to “best all-around". Big packages.
Father could float. Not on his back. Nearly drowned twice a week.

Mother in dread of failing this first major test of her parenting. Will he eat with one hand at a time?
Will he remember to breathe? Will he write his grandparents? Will they spell their name right? Will he be the kid in the bunk who eats a loaf of bread at every meal? Will he have the sense to share HIS food packages from home with his counselor so he can be best all-around camper? Will he get homesick? Will he cry at night? Will he cry during the day? Will he cry if there is not enough bread?

The camp. Two teenagers. Nice kids. Smooth. Firm. No, we’re sorry. No parents permitted on camp grounds. We'll take his things. All campers report to that building over there. Any questions? There's the camp office. Adjacent to the front gate. Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.
TRANSLATION: We have orders to shoot you if you attempt to go further onto camp ground than the front gate. Give us a hard time and we’ll tell everybody in camp that your son was kissed good-bye, by his FATHER which will result in a level of ridicule which will affect his chances for marriage and permanent employment.

Suddenly there’s commotion. Another family has arrived. With a son the same age as ours. His father, with a pallor peculiar to CPAs, is lost in mumbling reverie about his own camp days. Son is crying- with huge racking sobs generally reserved for the loss of close relatives or the end of Old Yeller. This kid would definitely cry if the bread ran out. His mother is insisting that she must see the camp director. Sorry, he’s busy. But this is my son's first time away from home and he's having a MAJOR problem! One of me smooth teenagers eyed the blubbering kid with the cool eye of one accustomed to witnessing pain. Like an obstetrical nurse. Don’t worry, he said. Everything will be fine. But you don't understand! the mother shrieked. We turned away.

Our kid was almost out of sight. He hadn't even turned around to wave. For the next week l‘ll be wondering if he’s well adjusted or just didn't want to be seen crying. We drove away.

I had a bit lump in my throat. My wife didn’t say anything. I guess she had one, too. Must have been something we ate...