Rebbetzin Jungries' column in the Jewish Press this week features a letter from a parent about camp visiting day. After three paragraphs of praising R. Jungries, the letter writer finally gets to the point:
I am writing this letter because I feel that something must be done about the nightmare that Camp Visiting Day has become. It is a situation that needs an airing, and while we may not be able to influence events on the world scene, this is something that is definitely in our hands and could ease the burdens of many families, and G-d knows, people have enough to contend with nowadays.
My husband and I are the grateful parents of five wonderful children (bli ayin hara), with, Baruch Hashem, a sixth on the way. My husband is salaried – he works very hard, but by the time the deductions are made from his paycheck, there is not much left, so I try to supplement his income with a part-time job. It is not easy, but Baruch Hashem, we manage to pay our bills, even if there is nothing left at the end of the year. My parents are not in a position to help – my in-laws are divorced and have their own problems. As for my siblings – they are struggling, as well. I write all this to give you a better understanding of the dynamics of our family, which I don’t think are too different from the challenges that most have to contend with these days.
It is a sacrifice for my husband and me to send our children to camp. Nevertheless, as difficult as it may be to write that check for camp fees, we do not want our children to feel deprived or different from their friends, and we do not think this is a matter of spoiling or indulging them. Nowadays, camp is not a luxury (although there may be some who consider it as such); if we didn’t send our children to camp, they would be totally lost. None of their friends are in the city, so camp has become a necessity. And now, to the immediate reason for my letter – the Visiting Day nightmare.
No sooner do the kids depart, and it’s visiting day, and like it or not, we all have to go, because all the other parents are going, and if we’re not there, our children will feel deprived and abandoned. I have always felt that these visiting days are ridiculous, and I dread them. The traffic is always horrendous... we have an old car, and more often than not, it overheats. There is always some problem on the road – a flat, the little ones are crying, whining, getting carsick, and having to make pit stops every minute. Then, when we finally arrive at camp (between our girls and boys we have to visit two different ones, the logistics of which is another nightmare), no sooner do we arrive than the kids clamor to be “taken off grounds” to get something good to eat!
So we head toward the nearest village (which is a nightmare in itself as well as an unnecessary expense). By the time we finish, we have run up a sizeable bill. Finally, it’s time to get back to camp, tip the counselors and waiters (another hefty sum), go through the traumatic weeping goodbyes (my daughter always gets very emotional), and pile into the car for our trip back to the city. If the trip up was bad, the return is 10 times worse. The traffic is more congested, the little ones are tired and cranky, and we return home muttering to ourselves “Never again!”
This year, however, presented even greater problems than before. Our family, like most, has been affected by the financial crunch. Prices are constantly soaring – everything has gone up, and unfortunately, our income isn’t keeping pace with the higher cost of living. Mind you, I am not complaining. I know people who unfortunately have been laid off and have no income at all, so I thank G-d for whatever we have. I know that I don’t have to tell you that gasoline prices have gone out of control. The round-trip to the mountains, plus the tolls, costs us close to $200. No matter how frugal we try to be, the cost is tremendous, and we, as most families, can ill-afford it. The expense and aggravation of visiting day is something that we can all do without!
In view of this physical, emotional, and financial wear and tear, I would respectfully recommend that visiting day be abolished or at least put on hold. I think that the camp directors would also be grateful since the day interrupts the routine that the children have finally acclimated to. As for the parents, they would certainly be happy. I have spoken to many people and they all agree that they could do very well without this aggravating day. Everyone would be grateful! Nowadays, we have enough to contend with in our lives, and this is one pressure that can easily be eliminated. I hope that, through your column, something constructive will be done.
A Frustrated Parent
Here's my reply:
Dear Frustrated Parent,
Thank you for your letter. I can certainly understand much of your frustration. I've had three kids in camp for the last three summers, and have certainly gone through my share of visiting days. I never look forward to the driving, sitting in traffic and tolls -- and with the sharp spike in gasoline prices over the last two years, the cost of the trip has risen significantly.
That being said, however, I think there are several points in your letter that need to be addressed. You don't state where you live, but I'm going to make the assumption that, if you're traveling by car for visiting day, that you are somewhere in the New York City metropolitan area. That being said, I have to start with the very first assumption that you made; specifically, that camp is not a luxury. In this, I have to disagree with you. You gave two reasons why you feel that camp is a necessity and not a luxury; you stated that they'd be "totally lost" with it and the fact that none of their friends are in the city. I'm not quite sure what you mean by "totally lost." I'm assuming you mean that they won't have any structured activity at all and that they'll just "bum around the neighborhood" all summer. While I agree with you that that is not an ideal situation, I would submit that there are alternatives. One such alternative is day camp. Yes, maybe your son's friends might not be there, but this might also be an opportunity for him to make some new friends. The cost is less than that of sleepaway camp and you'd be spared the whole visiting day hassle.
However, let's lay this discussion aside. Let's assume that all the day camps in your area closed or are completely and utterly inappropriate for your child. And, furthermore, let's say that you can afford sleepaway camp and want them to go. So, off they go to camp. However, then we have to deal with visiting day.
It sounds to me, from your letter, that visiting day is a major expense for you. In your letter, you indicated four major sources of expenditure for visiting day: gas, tolls, tips and going off-site to eat. This is aside from the frustration of traffic, driving, automotive problems (such as your chronically overheating car), the traumatic goodbyes, etc.
For the expenditures, there are several ways you can mitigate the costs. You can share a ride with another group of parents. More than once Eeees and I have taken other parents up to the country for visiting day. While they didn't offer to pay, you could easily offer to split the gas and tolls with someone who would otherwise have room in their car. Many camps charter buses from the city for a nominal fee. That too, is cheaper than driving.
For tips, you could give smaller tips, or send your kids to a camp that doesn't allow tipping. You can also bring up sandwiches and the like to eat and not go off site. Will these things make you a popular parent with your kids? No, probably not. But so what? Visiting day is about spending time with your family, not going out to eat. I went to sleep away camp for seven years as a kid and never once went off-site to eat on visiting day. I was not traumatized, nor was I scarred for life by having to eat the camp food on visiting day. Neither will your kids. If your kids are mature enough to go to sleepaway camp, they can be mature enough to understand the idea that the day is expensive enough as it is. Will they be happy about it? Probably not. But not everything is about their happiness.
There is also the option of just not going up for visiting day. Now, before you jump down my throat and state that this is a ridiculous position, hear me out. You state that there are many problems involved with going up to camp on visiting day. Some are problems that affect everyone who drives from New York City (the traffic, the travel time, etc.). Then there are problems that seem to be a problem for only some people (the cost, car troubles, the traumatic goodbyes, etc.). I don't think it's a good idea to abolish visiting for all parents because of the problems that some parents have. Not everyone has a problem paying for gas. Not everyone has a bad car and not everyone's kids suffer emotional trauma at the end of visiting day when it's time to go home. In short, I'm sorry that you have these problems, but that's not a reason to cancel visiting day for those parents who don't have those problems. Likewise, while you (and I) might not want to deal with the frustration of driving, that's no reason to abolish it for those that are happily willing to put up with it. Using your logic, we should abolish sleepaway camp altogether -- after all, there are some people who just cannot afford to send their kids to camp at all. However, I don't think that you would advocate this position. I think you would say that it should be available as an option for those who can/will pay for it. The same applies to visiting day.
That being said, that leaves you with a choice. Perhaps, if the cost is so great that it's going to cause a major financial hardship, or the frustarations involved are so great that the day is going to be ruined, then perhaps you should not go up for visiting day. Again, your children will certainly not be happy with your decision to stay home, but if they are mature enough to go to camp, they should be mature enough to understand the financial considerations involved. You should be able to explain to your children that $200 is a major expense that just cannot be borne at this time. If you've trained your children right in life, they should be able to understand it, even if they aren't happy about it.
All that being said, I think that there are changes that could be made to make visiting day a more pleasurable experience. Perhaps the camps could stagger the Sundays of visiting day (although, in a year like this one where Tisha B'Av falls on a Sunday that can be difficult). Perhaps camps should have programs for kids whose parents are not expected up, so that they aren't just sitting around feeling lonely. When I was a kid in Mogen Avraham many years ago, there was only one visiting day in the summer, now there are two. Perhaps we can find a way to go back to one. In short, there are ways to make visitng day better for all involved without eliminating it altogether, which is unfair.
Wishing you an easy trip this year,