Lessons from a summer camp dropout

4 years ago
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I just finished another one of those books about a group of teens who meet at sleepaway camp, share their innermost secrets and form lifelong bonds that can only be shared by friends who’ve lived with each other 24/7 during that coming-of-age time in their life.

And I’m envious.

Even at 50 (okay 51), I still have the feeling that I missed out on something that I’m convinced would’ve set my life on a different course. In my mind this would’ve included annual reunions at some fabulous beach house where our spouses and children would frolic in the sand and form their own lifelong bonds.

But camp was never in my DNA. Not day camp and certainly not sleepaway camp.

Oh, I tried a day camp once. Not because I wanted to but because my mother, tired I’m sure of listening to me complain about how bored I was, signed me up for two weeks at a local camp. The only fond memory I have was learning the words to the “Bonnie and Clyde” song.

It wasn’t until I was an adult, however, that I realized I had missed out on something important.

I was twentysomething, living in Manhattan and still building a circle of friends. I met Jennifer at work. Despite living on separate sides of the city -- she on the cool Upper West Side and me on the more reserved Upper East Side (much like our personalities) -- we became good friends. We had a lot in common especially our love for the show “Thirtysomething” and our quest for a “nice Jewish boy.” But there was one thing that set us apart, Jen was a former camper.

I remember listening to her talk about her beloved Camp Wahnee, the friends that she still kept in touch with and the bonds that they shared. And that’s when it hit me, I missed out. I was not part of the fraternity of campers who had experienced summers of first kisses, bug bites and swimming in the lake (okay I don’t like bugs and I especially don’t like swimming in lakes but you get the idea).

Throughout my adult life I have met a lot of people, like Jen, who, to this day, talk about how much they loved camp. I even know someone who tossed aside his corporate life and bought a camp -- I thought that only happened in the movies -- and he seems happier than ever, well at least it looks that way on his Facebook page.

I guess the real issue for me, however, is not that I didn’t go to camp, it’s the idea of having a group of friends. Friends who know you as well or better than you know yourself. Friends you can laugh with about the stupid things you did when you were younger or remind you of that really awful guy you dated.

Looking at my life today, I don’t have that group. I don’t even keep up with the “kids from the neighborhood.” But I do have some wonderful friends. Some who helped me get the snot out of my newborn baby’s nose when I was too afraid. Some who like to keep me out past my bedtime. And some, well most, who are there day or night, rain or shine.

No, we don’t share a long history together or even a secret handshake but we do share a bond. And the best part is, I didn’t need to swim in a lake to find them.

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