One of the highlights of my 7-year-old son’s winter break was getting to visit his summer camp counselor.
Cynthia, who directed the arts day camp that Nate attended in Cushing, Maine, is one of the kindest and most intuitive educators I have ever met. Some teachers just “get” your kid, and she is one of those gems.
Over winter break, we had driven from our home in Brooklyn, New York, to the Maine coast to visit my mother and grandmother. We spend a big part of our summers here, in part so the kids can attend affordable summer camp.
We dropped in on Cynthia in the store where she sells Maine-made art and crafts. The place was busy in the pre-Christmas rush, and we found Cynthia in the back wrapping a present.
Nate can be shy, but Cynthia knows not to rush him. She invited him to help her wrap and pretty soon Nate was happily chatting with her and delivering gifts to people in the store with a little smile on his face. When we left, he gave Cynthia a hug and promised he’d see her at camp next summer.
My husband and I had agonized about what Nate should do last summer. He’s anxiety-prone and sensitive to change, so summers are difficult, and previous attempts at summer camp had been miserable.
But he loves art, so we investigated our options and found a camp near to where my mother’s family lives that promised creative immersion with working artists in a natural setting. We debated how long to send him. Given his previous bad experiences with summer camp, it was tempting to enroll him for just a couple weeks or even split his time between two camps in case he didn’t like the first one.
But we took a chance and signed him up for the full session at the arts camp. We were betting that plunging headfirst into a new routine would make Nate’s summer transition easier than bouncing between different activities, and that the strong focus on art would be enough of a carrot to make him comfortable in the new setting.
I would spend more than a month in Maine with the kids, while my husband split his time between Maine, work travel and New York.
A lot of times you make choices as a parent that don’t work out how you anticipated, but in this case, to our delight, we guessed right.
I’ll give myself a little of the credit as a smart-cookie mom, but mostly I believe that we got incredibly lucky. Nate’s camp turned out to be a place almost perfectly suited to him: warm, nurturing, creatively stimulating and with plenty of space to run and play with others as well as decompress on his own.
Nate was the youngest of a small group of campers that ranged in age from 7 to 12, and he surprised me by making fast friends with kids much older than himself. Cynthia did an amazing job setting a cooperative, respectful tone among the kids. Every day when I dropped Nate off, he was happy and at ease to be there.
“When you have a creative person, you just have to let them be creative,” Cynthia told me. Nate had a summer where he was allowed to be in the best possible way, and he blossomed.
Right now, parents are already researching 2020 summer camps, getting ready to enroll their kids and spend huge sums of money for their summer enrichment and care. I feel lucky that I know exactly what my kids will be doing (we also found a great camp for preschoolers for my 3-year-old, Harvey).
But it strikes me that it is so difficult to make these choices half a year ahead of time, when you don’t know exactly where your child will be developmentally and what arrangement (day camp? specialty camp? overnight camp?) will be best for them.
I used to think I’d send my kids to overnight camp. Next summer, Nate will be old enough, but he’s definitely not ready. I know so many people who extol the benefits of Jewish summer camp, and maybe we’ll explore it at some point, but it’s not on the horizon right now.
One thing I have decided is that summer will be a time for my kids to dig deep into their passions. For now, that’s art for Nate.