Every summer in the parking lot of Beth El Synagogue, I drop off one of my kids and get a different one back. This is not some bizarre child exchange program; it’s sleepaway camp.
A few weeks away from Mom, Dad, and siblings changes a child—in a good way. Yes, there are a lot of new curse words that make it home and many private jokes, but there are also new friends and a sense of independence that can only come as a result of being away from the safety of home.
I am a firm believer in sleepaway camp. But, hey, not every kid’s a camper. And as my now-11-year-old stepped off the camp bus after three weeks away, I sensed a similar feeling of personal growth from her as I did when she took her first curtain call this past year.
During this past school year, all three of my children were given roles in a play called The Children’s Republic, a show about the Holocaust produced at the Harmony Theater. One afternoon when I dropped my kids at play practice, they immediately began speaking another language and fled from me as quickly as possible. Weird, but I think I’ve figured it out.
They’d been going to rehearsal together for months for three hours every Sunday. This was a nice break for me, but I didn’t realize what a gift it was for them. The cast was varied: adults, kids, seasoned actors, novices, people from all different backgrounds. And the kids didn’t know any of them until rehearsals began.
Remember when you moved to a different school, or went to summer camp? Your new friends had no preconceived notions of who you are or were? Then you got to choose who you wanted to be. One summer, I told my new camp friends to call me Jo, instead of Jordana. To this day, those friends still call me Jo, and I love it. My kids not only had characters to act out in the play, they had alternate personalities to create for themselves. As adults, we are on this journey to find our ‘authentic’ selves, seek our true north, and have a strong moral compass (feel free to insert whatever other modern day buzzwords you’d like). But kids are free to pretend and try on other personas to see what fits.
During the time they were in the play, my oldest remarked, “I think all these actors were meant to be in a play together because we’re all a little weird.” I’m so glad that at age 10 she realized everyone is a little weird and she embraced it. For some of us, that takes a lifetime to learn.
My 8-year-old son said, “I’m really going to miss my play friends when it’s over. They like me even when I’m crazy and make crazy faces; they still think I’m cool.” Good to know that by the ripe age of eight, he realized true friends accept you regardless of how crazy you are.
The kids had the opportunity to present a different face to their new friends, or at least show another side of their personality, and it was met with acceptance. Now that’s personal growth no matter how old you are!
They learned a lot being in the play. They worked hard on their lines, learned patience waiting backstage, learned to support other actors, learned the language of theater jargon. They understood that they weren’t always center stage (they all had minor roles), and they learned about friendship.
It’s the same with camp: You have to clean the bunk, because there’s no mom; you have to eat what the kitchen served or you’ll go hungry, and when you get in a fight with your friends, you work it out yourselves… Because that’s life!
Thank you, theater and sleepaway camp for teaching the lessons that parents can’t.