By Malkie Gordon Hirsch Magence

“Hi! Please submit your article for this week,” came the regular message from Michele, our Managing Content Editor, when I don’t submit my column on time.

I replied in horror that I’d forgotten it was Wednesday and the piece just slipped my mind, but G-d was still running the world by days of the week, and I had inadvertently missed several of them while trying to balance having the kids at home all day while packing for summer camp.

And while I might have been under the impression that things would mellow down as the academic year drew to a close, I had clearly been serving myself a hefty dose of delusion because nothing could be further from the truth.

This time of the year might be counted as a favorite among the kids who have just endured ten straight months of nine-hour school days, and for their parents who have to spend at least an hour every morning waking their kids up for school and then hoping they don’t miss the bus or forget their homework, but you can always tell when we’re quickly approaching that end of the school year finish line.

All over the Five Towns, a trip to the local 7-Eleven is de rigueur for many teachers as they escort their classes to this haven of nosh to buy sugar-laden snacks as a reward for making it to the finish line somewhat intact.

When your kids ask you for $20 and you wonder what on earth they could possibly buy in a convenience store for that much money, just know this is only dress rehearsal for burning a hole in your pocket during summer camp season.

And so, it begins…

First, we send the camp emails replete with all the forms necessary for each child.

There are medical forms, bunkmate requests, and other fun paperwork that no one in his right mind wants to do. Some camps like making it fun by having us print out copies of our insurance cards and cutting and pasting them to a sheet like it’s 1980 and we don’t solely operate our personal and professional lives over the internet.

My favorite part of the adult arts-and-crafts hour is when the camp administrators don’t use the information provided and instead have us call in emergency prescriptions for staph infections and asthma attacks through our pediatrician.

It makes me wonder what it was like fifty years ago when there wasn’t any internet or emails or computers and parents would fill out a form with their kid’s essential information, such as their name and emergency contact and we’d say goodbye at the bus and hope for the best.

But I digress.

Once the paperwork is filled out and we take a good discerning look at the kids, panic sets in.

A makeover session commences.

We make appointments with the pediatrician and dentist. The nail clippers come out, the barber is booked and then booked again after you leave the shop for an errand and realize your son told the guy not to cut anything off the top and when you glance at your son a week later, realize he still resembles a chia pet.

There are obligatory trips to buy the clothes and shoes that they will either give to a friend, lose in the laundry, or never unfold since they prefer to wear the same shirt daily.

There’s also the fun accessory necessary to make it as a camper in what I initially assumed was a rustic camp environment.

Personalized blankets and drawstring bags with their names emblazoned on the front surrounded by their favorite things.

Caboodle boxes that house accessories and yummy smelling bath soaps instead of essentials like sunscreen, bug spray, and toothpaste.

Now they have a more impressive skin care regimen than their mother, who still buys her skincare at T.J. Maxx.

My camp experience usually included mismatched bedsheets from several sets that we found stuffed in the linen closet.

It would be a Care Bears/Transformers mashup that didn’t upset me at all.

In my camp glory days, there was no such thing as an egg crate to make the bed more comfortable.

Just a piece of plywood acting as a boxspring, a one-inch-thick mattress, and the hope it wasn’t infested with bugs that would give us a raging case of lice.

What creates character, you might wonder?

Opting for sleeping on the floor because it’s softer than the bed your parents paid an exorbitant amount for.

“Uh, ma? I need some propane gas for our grill.”

“Grill? Don’t they feed you in camp?”

“When do you grill? Between meals and snacks?”

“Is there any time left to eat? I’m confused.”

I think back to my sleepaway camp days, when we’d assemble on slabs of pavement in the hot sun in front of the dining hall, each bunk charged with formulating a cute poem that would allow us entry into lunch where we’d whatever was served.

“Chaya Gila Rena Ditza, let us in to eat our pizza!” I can just see the kids of 2024 doing the eyeroll at that jingle.

And then quickly accessing chat GBT for a Grammy award winning set of lyrics.

Maybe something in Italian to celebrate that country’s cuisine.

So 2024!

There was that delicious neon-hued macaroni and cheese or the weird dense chocolate pudding with air pockets that I would count as I passed the time before our next mandatory activity.

Never did our camp experience include us opting out of camp lunch or grilling strip steaks with a few buddies in the bunkhouse backyard.

And then I got this email: Hello, this is Yosef’s tennis instructor, just wondering if there are any specifics you’d like me to work on with him this summer?

“They have tennis instructors?” I thought as I wrote back: Hi! I’d love for him to actually learn how to use his racket to make contact with the tennis ball…

I’m happy to give my kids the things I never had, but I also didn’t realize I was missing out on anything while I was spending a hot afternoon perfecting my lanyard skills to make a cute little keychain that no one ever used.

Or taking care of our bunk mascot, a salamander that desperately wanted to be freed from a group of crazed pre-teens.

Many a shoe box was sacrificed with holes cut out of the top to ensure that our latest bunk critter had sufficient air before it ultimately escaped, leaving us wondering where the cute little tadpole would finally resurface.

There were no hotel check-ins or travel camps where they would take kids to parts of the world I will probably never see.

We didn’t have Pilates or sushi or spin classes or an extensive canteen, but we were happy regardless.

I’m the only parent who doesn’t scour the website, desperately searching for pictures of my kids having fun.

Nevertheless, I have friends and even acquaintances who send screenshots when they come across a picture of my kids in camp.

I usually look at the picture and think “Oh look, it’s Yosef. Still looks like him” and then I go on my merry way.

As the class WhatsApps die down for the season, the camp’s WhatsApps rear themselves with a vengeance.

First, there are bunk confirmations, making sure the moms know which bunk each 14-year-old kid they’ve ever met is in.

Although I enjoy partaking in the fact that I actually know which bunk they’re all in. I pipe in “bunk 4!” following the sentiments of a thousand other moms that just wrote the same thing.

And strangely enough, I feel like a rockstar because of it. Because really, if I don’t write it on the WhatsApp, is he really in bunk 4?

Then we move on to discuss more pertinent topics, such as links to outrageously expensive summer camp services that supply cholent and kugel to the kids who already get cholent and kugel at camp.

But it’s got to be special because it’s exorbitantly priced, so they must use the pricy gourmet potatoes that go into the regular, heimish food we know and love.

Then we move on to tallying up how many parents want to bus their sons home this year instead of making the trek to rural Pennsylvania and standing in the middle of the camp, thinking, “How long do I have to stand here? It’s really hot.”

“Ma, you wanna see my bunk? It’s up there on that hill…”

There are camps with visiting day programs galore, meals for the visitors who make the 3-hour drive, and activities for the siblings who have schlepped along.

And then there are camps that sweep the bunk floor and expect you to sit on your kid’s bed (or change their linen while you’re there) for several hours until you’re ready to brave the local Walmart to buy them snacks that they managed to run out of in the week since you’ve last seen them.

The running theme I see with most mothers is that no matter where the kids go or what they do, we just want to see our kids happy.

And maybe we parents should learn in our “helicopter society” to extricate ourselves a little and give our kids the chance to discover themselves without constantly interfering.

I can easily speak for my siblings when I say that those summers away were some of the best days of our lives and we want the same for our kids, who are growing up in a way more complicated world than the one we grew up in.

What we need is some freedom from our constant media obsession, to give our kids a chance to see what it was like for earlier generations.

A simpler way of life, an ability to communicate with others without the use of a smartphone or computer, a chance to just be kids.

The activities might be cooler and the struggle to mediate on your child’s behalf might be harder because of the technology we’re privy to, but these innocent days, the days when they can be who they truly are, might shape and form the person who they grow up to be.

I wish you and your children a great summer!


Malkie Gordon Hirsch Magence is a native of the Five Towns community, a mom of 5, a writer, and a social media influencer.



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