Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Visiting Day... The Wolf Answers Another Letter

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,

The Wolf


Gil Student said...

There's no excuse for complaining about traffic going to camp. Just leave earlier than everyone else. And for the traffic going home, look into alternate routes.

Going offsite? Just say no.

Tips? In camps that allow or require tips, that might be the only money that the kids are making for the summer. I wouldn't skimp on that.

The real problem is parents who refuse to take responsibility and instead blame the community. If you can't afford camp or visiting day, then explain that to your kids.

Eliezer StrongBad said...

well put Gil, I didn't go to camp when I was younger and my parents treated me in mature enough fashion as to explain to me why.
again, kids may not be thrilled, but on some level they CAN understand and will be no worse for wear.

SuperRaizy said...

The letter also mentioned the hassle of shlepping the younger children with them for the day. Solution: Have one parent visit the camp, while the other stays home with the little ones. This will also cut down on the expense of going off-site to eat, if that's what they choose to do.

Anonymous said...

I did that last year - left the youngest kids home with my husband. Big improvement but still a tiring day. Plus, I work full time, so it's a day I can't spend with my needy younger ones.

Every year I warn my kids that I am not sure I will come. If I decide I can't make it, I will call the camp a few days before to make sure the kids get the message. You know what? They have friends at camp from California whose parents don't come either. The kids who don't have family coming get taken to WalMart. I really think my kids half look forward to the possibility of the trip to WalMart.

Finally, my kids love camp so much they talk about it for 11 months out of the year. They don't miss me the 4 weeks of camp. No, I don't think they need visiting day.

Frum Heretic said...

Methinks you need to see if the Jewish Press would like another advice column. "Dear Wolfie..."

Anonymous said...

This is going to be a bit harsh, but I’m just so sick of reading these kinds of things every few days. All these complaint letters are the same kind of whiny rant where a person can’t step up and do the responsible thing, so instead asks for some “greater power” to step in and save them from making tough choices.

The obvious answer here is to tell your kid that you can’t do it. It’s that simple. Yes, it might be hard, and no doubt, the kid may be upset about it, but you’re a parent, aren’t you? Sometimes you have to make difficult calls!

Why should the whole system of visiting day be abolished because you (and others like you) can’t make a difficult choice?!

These endless letters seem to get more and more pathetic every week.

“Dear Rebbe/Rebbetezin,
I feel forced to something I don’t think is right. How can I make them stop forcing me?”

Puh-leez! No one is forcing you but your own desperate need to fit in! If you don’t want to pay a fortune for a bar mitzvah, or play stupid shidduch games, or deal with crazy chumras, or have to conform to ridiculous dress codes or any other stupidity that your society is demanding, stop demanding that your society change and just grow a pair already and do what you think is right for yourself! You’re not in third grade anymore where you’re being pressured by your classmates to do idiotic things or else they’ll make fun of you! If you don’t think something is right for yourself, just don’t do it!

ProfK said...

Could a mother who has been there and done that offer this?: I wanted visiting day because I missed my kids. I wanted a hug up close and personal. I wanted to see them and make sure that everything really was okay. We didn't go off grounds in those days. I brought a picnic lunch up with me. And yes, there was only one visiting day per summer.

The prolonged separation was one of the reasons I was not gung ho on sleep away camp for the kids, and they didn't go for many summers.

BrooklynWolf said...

Methinks you need to see if the Jewish Press would like another advice column. "Dear Wolfie..."

Hmmmm... I know some people who work at the Jewish Press. Maybe I could bring it up... :)

The Wolf

Lion of Zion said...


all your suggestions are excellent, but why waste your time.

a) someone who has already admitted she is doing things because of outside pressures is not going to heed your practical advice

b) you should have simply written, "stop whining and deal with it."

i mean of all the things a parent could complain about to the extent of drafting such a long letter, this is what bothers her? perhaps someone complains about something like this should not have had 5 kids. and before anyone accuses me of being harsh, go back and check her letter. does she start by saying that she really misses her kids and would love to see them on visiting day (and that they might miss her too and need to see her), but this is very difficult because of x, y, z. no. she just launches into her tirade.

Lion of Zion said...

"My husband is salaried . . . by the time the deductions are made from his paycheck"

is she saying what i think she's saying, or am i reading into this too much?


"you could give smaller tips, or send your kids to a camp that doesn't allow tipping. "

as gil pointed out, this is not fair to the counselors who often don't get paid well from the camp yet work extremely hard. tipping is sort of part of an unwritten contract that you agree to when you send your kids to camp. and it could also make matters more difficult for your child if you don't tip (or tip appropriately).

besides, are there that many camps that have a no-tipping policy? of the MO camps, the only one i am aware of is moshava (although there could be others)

The Rashblog said...

I have to agree with Gil and the Lion about tipping. As someone who's worked as a waiter, JC, and counselor, I can assure you that a lot (if not all) of a staff member's salary comes from tips. Plus, by not tipping or tipping less, the staff member can feel slighted and insulted. Considering that this boy/man is spending his summer making sure kids have fun, it's rather rude to stiff them. Sending kids to a non-tipping camp (such as Magen Av) is a better solution.

I'd also like to point out that tipping and visiting day are not the same thing. Tips should be given regardless. Some parents choose to wait until the end of the summer for it; some even tip at the beginning. The custom is to tip on visiting day because that's when the parents are there, but they aren't a direct result of the visitation. Parents who don't make the journey still send in their tips.

Anonymous said...

Funny how I always thought a 'tip' was something totally voluntary -- above and beyond and totally w/o associated 'rules'.

And, yes, I was a counselor, waiter, and busboy back in the day.

BrooklynWolf said...

OK, I admit that I didn't think of tipping from the perspective that R. Student mentioned. Granted, that may not be such a good idea. However, there are camps that you can send your kids to that don't allow tipping.

The Wolf

Ahavah said...

Children are not stupid - I am continually amazed at why people are unwilling to just sit their children down and explain things to them. "Kids, we know you enjoy sleep-away camp. And we want you to go, and you will be able to go this year. However, money is tight, so Mum and Dad will not be able to visit you on visitation day this summer. I know most of the other camper's parents will be there, and you may feel disappointed. But we simply cannot afford the extra expense of going. So we will give you a choice. You can go to camp, knowing we will not be coming for visitor's day, so you can still enjoy seeing your friends and doing the camp activities. Or, you can stay home and not go to camp at all if you think you can't handle Mum and I not coming for visitation day."

Most kids will choose the camp anyway, even knowing their parents won't be coming to visit. Kids are amazingly resilient - if you don't treat them like they're idiots and try and pretend that things are fine when they're not (and believe me, they already know. Kids have amazing BS radars, too). Give them choices and include them in the family process - you will be amazed at how mature and selfless they can be. (Now, if they are spoiled brats right now, this may need some work....)

It is terribly irresponsible of you, as parents, to spend money you can't afford to spend. Kids can understand this - so be an adult and make the adult decision. Just don't go.

Anonymous said...

I know I am just a lowly out of towner, but I remember working as a kid, I never went to camp. Was I disappointed that many of my friends went and I didn't, when I was younger sure, but as I got older I was happy that I didn't have the same cookie cutter summer that everyone else had. Plus I am sure the letter writer is not the only parent that finds the financial burden of camp a bit much, maybe parents should talk and see if several of them together want to not send kids away to costly camp, thus solving the no friends problem.

Anonymous said...

I basically agree with your advice, Wolf, but, actually, I think I might agree with this woman that visiting day should be abolished. This was the sort of thing that was instituted when there was one payphone for all the campers and they were only allowed to use it once a week, if that much. These days, many -- if not most -- kids bring cellphones and are in daily contact with their parents. Why do they need to see them halfway through the trip?

jewchick said...

I went to sleep away camp when I was a kid. Tips were not allowed, and my mom always brought a lasagna from home that she kept warm by wrapping it in a lot of newspaper.
At the end of the day, my bunk mates got to enjoy whatever lasagna was left over - and it was always a hit. I never would even have THOUGHT about leaving the camp for food.
Oh, and one year, my parents couldn't come, and that was okay with me... I hung out with an old friend and family. It was a lot of fun.
And the camp plans a trip for kids who don't have plans on visiting day. They go to a small amusement park nearby, that serves kosher ice cream and make a day of it.

frumskeptic said...

This mother has bigger issues than her finances. The way she wrote her letter seemed almost as if she didn't actually care about seeing her kids at all, but only cared about what other people thought of her.

Describing the one day you're allowed to see your kids up at camp as "aggravating" is beyond pathetic. I don't care how frustrating the day is (I've been in traffic on visiting day).

If it were solely finances she would've phrased the letter differently. This woman needs to be treated at some parent clinic.

My mom and sister thought the same thing about the lady. Its sad. Parents should learn to deal with things. I know my parents dealt with alot of expensive as well as "aggravating" things for my sister and me, and I had to go to my share of boring productions my sister's school made. Its what you do as parents and relatives- It's just part of the job description.

This woman probably only had the kids because she didn't want to be left out from all the other people having large families. *shakeshead*