I love the smell of mildewed bath towels in the morning. And the sight of sweaty gym socks thrown all over the floor. And the taste of chocolate mint Matzah, considered a delicacy for eight days a year, but inedible for the other 357. And the sound of children crying in my cabin at 5:00 am, other people’s children that is. Welcome to Passover Family Camp 2014!
I must admit, I was never a big camp guy growing up. As a youngster, I spent four “glorious” weeks of the longest summer of my life in beautiful Kerrville, Texas, crying nonstop for my mommy and writing daily letters home that were sealed with fresh teardrops. (Summer school would have been much more appealing.) My “bully” counselor-in-training initially relished the idea of turning a timid, frightened lad into a man by the end of the session, but soon moved onto to more achievable projects…like chasing female counselors-in-training. (He would not be shocked to see the timid, frightened man I have become.)
I never got used to showering alongside my bunkmates and I carefully timed bathroom visits between the hours of midnight and 6:00 am. My skills on the rifle range muted my chances of ever becoming a card-carrying NRA member and my fear of wolves (or insects) made an overnight campout a good excuse to visit the camp infirmary. Since my palette was far from refined back then, my diet consisted of grilled cheese sandwiches and chocolate spread. (Not much has changed.) By week three-and-a-half, I saw the light at the end of the tunnel and finally began to loosen up and have fun (tetherball tourney runner-up), but certainly not enough fun to consider a repeat performance the following year.
WHERE’S THE FOUR SEASONS?
So when our friends suggested Passover Family Camp in April…a (long) weekend at a real camp in Wimberley, Texas; a cabin (complete with bunk beds and community bathroom) to share with another family; and all the Kosher for Passover food one can eat, including chocolate spread on Matzah…I had immediate reservations and flashbacks to that glorious summer. (This time, I could email my teardrops to my mommy.) But my oldest daughter would not take no for an answer and, in fact, she became the most excited I had seen her since those sick rumors about SpongeBob being canceled proved to be unfounded.
Camp looked exactly the same today as camp looked some 40 years ago (though these cabins had AC and heat). My daughter and her young roomie friend called dibs on two of the top bunks and no one staked claims on the other six. I could not bear the thought of climbing down from the top bunk multiple times throughout the night because duty was sure to call and my aging prostate would not let me disregard the urge. Even though I lucked into a lower bunk, I felt badly that our cabin mates had to hear my constant treks to the little boys room when they were trying to sleep. I also cringed at the fact that our youngest woke up several times before dawn each morning, a bit disoriented from her unfamiliar surroundings (and she has not perfected her inside voice).
Our roomies were the model bunkmates, never complaining about our/my mess, our/my hygiene, our/my snoring, or my immediate negativity about the overall camp experience. We did share our endless supply of Passover potato chips, though that hardly compared to the margaritas they poured for us and our neighbors throughout the weekend (and yes, we discovered that Ritas are indeed Kosher for Passover…or, at least, they were this year). Our cabin was centrally located, a prime gathering spot for afternoon happy hour, and just a hop, skip, and jump away from the do-it-yourself zip line. We were thrilled that our kids were so close to such a fun activity, though not quite so thrilled when the older kids often took their turns zip-lining long after bedtime.
A TRUE CAMP EXPERIENCE
The camp was packed with trails for walking and jogging and paved paths for scooters and EZ Rollers. Bluebonnets were still in bloom, a luxury lost on me, but one that served as the key selling point for the nature hikes. Days were spent with no shortage of activities as certain dads relived their long forgotten athletic days by nailing their kids in heated games of dodgeball and kickball (one child’s bloody nose hardly stopped the fun and only added to the competition) and the ropes course proved popular for the more daring of the group. (I watched from a distance.) The thermometer on the unheated pool read a balmy 60 degrees though that didn’t stop my youngest from wanting to take her turn on the slide and, of course, she could only use it from the lap of an adult. (I believe my wife was admiring the bluebonnets at the time.) Together we celebrated Shabbat as a community and found our spiritual sides in children-led services, inspirational words from the dueling rabbis, and hilarity of the Bible Players troupe.
While I am a picky eater even under the best of circumstances, I dreaded the Passover food and secretly wished we hadn’t shared our potato chips with our friends. In Houston, I eat most Passover meals at my mom’s house as she and my sister have mastered the culinary art of the Kosher pizza, mac and cheese, lasagna, and of course, leftover brisket and Matzah ball soup. I hardly believed that the camp kitchen could compete on any level against a home-cooked Passover meal, especially given an audience of some 200-plus people. In reality, the camp chef did a superb job of pleasing virtually everyone, with both adult and kid options, a fresh salad bar, and even the always tasty chocolate spread on Matzah. (Yes, that’s the camp I remember.) While the adults raved about the turkey, the veggie casserole, the quiche, the Matzah Brei, I often found my way to the hot dogs and Matzah pizza at the kids’ table and was always satisfied.
While I had major apprehensions in advance of the (long) weekend, I must admit that my family and I had a great time and plan to attend future camps. The scenery, the activities, the food all contributed to our experience, but nothing topped the opportunity to simply hang out with family and dear friends (old and new), far away from the hustle and bustle of everyday (city) life and the ever-so-necessary electronics. (The iPad doesn’t count as it became a much needed babysitter for our little one.) I truly enjoyed watching my kids away from their traditional comforts and seeing how they coped with newfound “hardships” (certainly better than me).
A TALE OF TWO CHILDREN
My older daughter (7) displayed an independent spirit that I was not sure existed. She attended the organized circus camp without most of her good friends (because they could not bring themselves to leave the gaga pits) and has now mastered the art of juggling (with just two balls for now). She dined each meal at a kids’ table and somehow managed to cut her own food and retrieve her own drink (most of the time) without my assistance. She had the run of the camp on her EZ Roller and took off with friends to explore the grounds and participate in the many fun activities. (I don’t believe Olympic archery is in her future.) I felt certain that she would beg us to go to sleep-away camp this summer as she is now old enough (in their eyes, not mine) to attend a one week session. To my surprise (and relief), she informed us that she would be waiting one more year before venturing off on her own. She is definitely growing up…just hopefully not too fast.
My baby (3) was not quite as independent and generally preferred to have one of us by her side even at her organized, age-appropriate activities. (She definitely takes after her daddy.) She enjoyed playing with her friends and even explored the camp a bit on a newly mastered EZ Roller (don’t tell her sister that she borrowed it), though she always had one eye on mom or dad and never ventured too far away. She lived on chocolate spread and potato chips for three days and the lack of a nap throughout contributed a tad to some occasional grumpiness. (I can totally relate.) If pressed, she would admit to having a fun time, but she clearly was ready to go home. (Three days is a long time to go without SpongeBob.) Her independent streak has not yet fully kicked in and she occasionally struggles with some separation anxiety (but who doesn’t). I actually somewhat relish the demands for “uppie” and her desire to have us close by, because I know that sentiment will change one day soon.
While I made it through an entire camp experience without my standard homesick letter, upon our return, we immediately headed over to mommy’s for a home-cooked Passover meal. (Was it rude to ask her to wash our mildewed towels and sweaty gym socks?)