There was a place in my childhood and adolescence, where I felt truly safe and happy, where I could be myself and feel acceptance, where there were boundaries and I knew I was cared for, where I could let go and be a child, allowing myself to experience all those things that allow you to learn about yourself as you grow up and become the person you need to become. That place was summer camp.
Every now and again in my life I am reminded of those powerfully condensed summers, in which friendships were formed, secret crushes flourished, conversations about the meaning of life were conducted in the wee hours of the night, often under the stars, sometimes with a guitar playing in the background, where the cool girls would hang out, in their cut-collared T-shirts, exposing their bra straps, with that summer’s newly transitioned ex-geeky hottie, his arm muscles flexed as he strummed his guitar, was playing his Oasis and his hotel california as his entourage sang along. Was there an afterlife? Would there be peace in the middle east? Would I ever have my first kiss and would it be with A?
In the mornings, waking up early and rushing to get dressed and brush teeth and get to prayer on time, then breakfast in the dining hall and a meeting with our counselors, and then the things we needed to do, efforts made to change the world, truly believing in our power to better it. Hot afternoons in the swimming pool, set amongst the pine trees, harboring rowdy half-developed teens as well as frogs that croaked beside us as we swam.
Shabbat. Getting ready and dressing up, feeling elated, excited to end prayer by greeting everyone and, traditionally, kissing on the cheek. Would he come greet me? Would he kiss me on the cheek? Shabbat dinner was always deliciously noisy and fun, with our counselors singing at the top of their lungs when the meal was over, and everyone excitedly participating, sometimes even standing on chairs or drumming on the tables. There was no curfew on Friday night, as long as you made it to prayer in the morning, and we’d lay down on the grass outside, looking at the stars, sharing secrets and talking about who and what we wanted to be.
Condensed. Three weeks a year where I wasn’t constantly being scorned by my father, where I wasn’t in charge of mothering my younger sisters, picking them up from daycare, making them lunch, and later on seeing that they did their homework, arguing and trying unsuccessfully to discipline them when they misbehaved. I loved my sisters to pieces. I would have died for them. But then, everything was so dramatic when I was a hormone stricken teenager, learning to constantly be critical of myself, to be ashamed, and eventually to truly hate myself.
I didn’t hate myself in camp, though. I liked myself. I felt smart and funny. I was able to let go of my worry about my appearance. I felt competent and brave. I sang solo one time in front of 300 people. I dared to befriend the boys I had a crush on. I learned then so much of what I know now and implement every single day into my work with children, into my parenting, and into my constant introspection.
I’m not religious anymore. I don’t even believe in god. But I believe in the good intentions of people. I believe in people’s ability to change things that seem unchangeable. I believe in my own personal ability to cope with anything that comes my way. I believe I’m awesome. I believe I deserve to be loved and shown affection and appreciated. And even though it took me years to implement these beliefs into my life, it all started when I was 13 at summer camp.