by Tevya parent and alum Julie Grasfield Weil

Originally published in the Sharon Advocate in July and August of 2014

The New Parent Experience

Sending your child to overnight camp for the first time comes with many questions. Did I pack enough socks and underwear? Will they eat the camp food? If they lose a tooth will the Tooth Fairy visit? Underneath all those questions, however, lies our real concerns: Will my child be okay? Will they have fun? Will they make friends?

For 80+ years, parents sending their children to Camp Tevya for the first time have had these same concerns. And for 80+ years kids have been okay. Kids have had fun. Kids have made friends. And yes, the tooth fairy did make many visits to camp. Today, in order to alleviate their concerns, parents take advantage of the opportunities offered to help set their children up for success at camp. They take tours, talk to parents of returning campers, get to know the staff, and attend the Cohen Camps New Camper Orientation and other events before camp starts. But it doesn’t stop them from worrying.

To provide perspective on what this new parent experience feels like, we are happy to share a two part article from Tevya parent and alum Julie Grasfield Weil from 2014. The article, which was published in the Sharon Advocate in July and August of 2014, was inspired by Julie’s experience that summer sending her two sons to Tevya for the first time.

Diving Into the Deep End At Overnight Camp

 Just the other day my older son, Michael, asked me about jumping into a pool or a lake.

“It’s instinct,” I explained. “You walk to the edge of the diving board, you look down at the water, you draw in a breath, and you jump in. There’s no turning back.”

“No,” interjected his brother Daniel. “You can turn back and climb down.”

“Yes,” I responded, “but once you leap, you’re all in.”

“How does your body know to come back up?” he asked. “It just does. You jump. You’re propelled downward. You have a good amount of oxygen to hold you for a minute or two, and then your instincts kick in and you start paddling up toward the surface, where you exhale and draw in fresh air.” It’s really a metaphor for life.

This past Wednesday, my husband and I drove our boys, now 10 ½ and 8 ½, up to overnight camp for the very first time. It happens to be the same camp I attended from 1974-79, 35-40 years ago. Quite conveniently, last weekend my alma mater, Camp Tevya, celebrated its 75th anniversary, so we were able to walk around, play soccer and tennis, swim, eat lunch and dinner, see friends, and sing songs by the bonfire at the lake, all in one fun-filled day. The years melted away when I saw old friends.

The rich smell of the wood of the bunks, the sight of the azure sky across Lake Potanipo, the tickle of the grass beneath my feet, the peals of laughter over jokes shared, and the taste of a burger hot off the grill…they all transported me back to my childhood. Memories came flooding back of old friends, secrets shared, fun activities, camp traditions, and special songs.

Oh, the fun they’ll have. But, as my younger son pointed out, it will be the longest we’ve ever been apart. They may shed a few tears at drop-off. I will have to hold mine at bay until I’m safely in the car on the way home. Watch out, Steven, for the floodgates will open.

My 10-year-old tells me, “You don’t understand.” But I do. I was him 40 years ago. The umbilical cord was cut but there’s still an invisible thread that links their hearts to mine.

My first summer at camp, I was terribly homesick. I was a small, shy almost 10-year-old, still attached to my mother’s apron strings. I remember missing my parents so horribly. What I didn’t realize was that it was only at night before bed or any other small window of downtime. When I was busy, engaged in all of the wonderful activities of camp, I was just fine. So, I went through a lot of Kleenex, I dried tears on my beloved teddy bear, but I survived.

I actually wrote a letter home that said, “I am sick and you are the only cure.” Talk about pulling on heartstrings. My mom’s best friend admonished her, “You go get that child and bring her home.” “I will not,” replied my mom. “If I did, she would never believe that she could do anything.” She was right. I settled in. I made friends. I pushed myself to try new things.

It sure helped that my big brother Jimmy and nurturing counselors were there. It certainly helped that my parents had laid a foundation of confidence, so that I heard a little voice in my head repeating, “You can do it! We believe in you!”

It sounds like The Little Engine That Could, but it really was as if I were telling myself in my head, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.” And, I did.

When my folks came to bring me home at the end of the month, I was nowhere to be found. Teddy, whom I’ve had since I was three, was sitting in my laundry bag with his head sticking out above the drawstring (so he could breathe, I told my folks). Meanwhile I was flitting about hugging and crying—happy tears this time—saying goodbye to all of my new-found best friends. I returned for five more summers.

My sons will take the leap of faith that they’ll have fun and that camp will be wonderful. The first letter home may read, “I’m not happy. Come get me.” The second may say, “It’s not as horrible as I thought it would be.” The next might say, “I’m having a blast. Can I stay for the whole summer?!”

I will return in a month to retrieve them and they’ll speak a foreign language full of private jokes, make plans for next summer, and recount all their adventures…and my heart will sing with joy. We will dive back into family life, and I will breathe deeply that while away they got along swimmingly.

Julie Grasfield Weil

A Camp Tevya parent and alum

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