After only one day of my sons attending the Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Greater Baltimore’s J Camps this past summer, my husband Dan and I were certain that sending them was the right choice.
When the pandemic hit and schools closed, our family, like other families across the Baltimore region, struggled to find a sense of normalcy. Liam, then 7, was abruptly cut off from his friends and second-grade teacher. And Griffin, then 5, would miss the final months of pre-K, critical months that were supposed to help prepare him for kindergarten. We spent a lot of time baking and hiking. We planned Dan’s trips to the grocery store like he was preparing for battle. While I worked long hours in various rooms of our house, Dan worked to manage Liam’s remote learning and keep Griffin occupied so that he wouldn’t bother Liam during online class.
We did our best, but the kids suffered. Two boys accustomed to spending every day surrounded by friends were suddenly stuck at home with their parents and each other. They became cranky and obstinate, and even a little depressed.
When J Camps announced its modified plans for the summer, we didn’t hesitate to sign up. Dan had to return to work in person, and my work wouldn’t allow me to supervise the children all day. We’ve been a J Camps family for several years, and I knew we could trust the leadership and staff to put in place the proper safety measures and do everything they could to keep campers healthy.
When we dropped them off on the first day, I cried. After months at home together doing everything we could to stay safe, it felt scary to send them out into the world again.
But that fear quickly disappeared once we saw the change in behavior and personality that occurred after just one day. The boys returned to their carefree selves. They whined and argued less; they laughed more.
The children never once complained about having to wear masks. The masks quickly became just another fact of life for them. They swam every day, played sports, did crafts and sang and danced, just like they do every year at camp. It looked different this time. There were temperature checks at dropoff. Bunks were isolated from other bunks. The weekly Shabbat celebration no longer brought the whole camp together: It was smaller and less boisterous. But it was still camp—and the children were thrilled to be there.
A few weeks after the start of camp, Griffin started showing cold symptoms. We kept him home out of an abundance of caution. Because of the health and safety protocols put in place by the camp, we then had to either keep him home for 10 days or show a negative COVID-19 test result. We were able to get him tested, although it took quite a few days to get results, which were negative. It was frustrating to have to keep him home, but we understood that it was part of the collective effort to prevent outbreaks and keep everyone safe.
We knew that our decision to send the kids to camp brought a certain measure of risk. But we agreed that the risk was worth it in order to support their mental health and emotional well-being. In hindsight, we remain certain that it was the right choice for our family during an incredibly challenging year.