Camp kids leave behind untouched banana and lonely younger sibling

In one more day it will be too ripe to eat. The peel is perfectly yellow and unmarked. For now. I am always mildly astonished at how quickly and effortlessly they ripen, in just a few days. I usually buy a bunch that is completely, almost hopelessly green. They sit together in the deep pewter bowl on the kitchen counter, sometimes with a hard avocado or a few firm peaches. Mostly just with each other for company. By the end of day two they are a pale yellow, and by day three they start to disappear as the kids pluck them off the bunch for breakfast smoothies and snacks. “Have a banana” is a reliable remedy for the constant hunger that preoccupies my growing children. We go through several bunches a week.

This particular banana sits by itself. It’s been there, untouched at the bottom of the bowl, for a few days already. It must be lonely, I think to myself as I wipe the counter and put one stray glass in the dishwasher. Lonely bananas are not something I’m used to seeing in our kitchen.

“Have a banana,” I say to my youngest as he aimlessly drifts into the kitchen. “Look how nice and yellow it is!” He’s wandering around the house, from room to room, looking for something.

“No thanks,” his brow is furrowed, his voice a little forlorn. “I don’t really like bananas.” That’s true. He’s not the one who eats all the bananas. I quietly watch him as he tries to figure out what to do, where to go, next. The house stands silent around him. Oh, I realize, he’s lonely too.

His siblings, the banana eaters, are all away at camp in Southern California. Four weeks of hot sun, friends new and old, Hebrew songs, the odd letter home, Shabbat in community and the type of wild and contagious ruach (spirit) that is only found at camp. They love everything about it (except the food! They probably eat a lot of bananas).

My oldest has been going to Camp Ramah for five years, and his siblings joined him as soon as we decided they were old enough (usually around 8 or 9). The planning and anticipation lasts all year, and by the time they gather with the other Bay Area kids in the Southwest terminal at Oakland airport on a foggy morning in July, they could probably make it down to Ojai on adrenaline alone.

But one is left behind.

He has been watching some combination of his brothers and sister label their clothes and pack their overstuffed duffel bags since he was 2 years old. He will probably join them next year and he’s excited about it.

But for now he’s lonely. A little lost in the too-quiet house. Even the washing machine is still. And it’s taking an awfully long time to fill the dishwasher.

He looks so deflated standing by himself in the kitchen, as if all the air that usually fills him, all the things that make him light and bouncy, rushed out in a loud and sudden whoosh. Rushed all the way down to SoCal with sleeping bags and contraband candy.

I say “play with your sister” or “ask your brother to help you” to my kids as often as I offer bananas. Siblings and bananas have proved to be tremendous cure-alls for just about anything that ails.

But today there’s nobody around but me. “Let’s take Rocky for a walk,” I suggest to his hunched, narrow shoulders. “Fine,” he sighs.

We walk. The dog barks. Wags his tail at everyone and tries to interfere with the other dogs. My little boy grabs the leash from me and takes charge. They run and play together, and on the way home he wonders how dogs and people become homeless. He asks, among other things, if I believe HaShem really spoke to Moses from a burning bush. “I do,” I tell him. He looks skeptical.

We are both smiling and a little out of breath when we get home. The dog slurps his water noisily. “Mom,” he holds the perfectly ripe, single banana out to me. “Will you make me banana bread?”

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Nicki Gilbert

Nicki Gilbert is a writer, Alcatraz swimmer and country music lover who lives in Piedmont with her husband, four kids and dachshund puppy. Her blog is RedBoots.me.