Kids Need Camp

For me it’s about the sound. The thump thump thumping of a basketball, or the high-pitched quarreling over whether the carrom is fully in or out of Pocket Golf hole #7, or the music that wafts across the Magnet campus, providing the soundtrack of nineteen summers. Then there’s the stillness at 4:00. Everyone has gone home and I’m alone on the yard, the cars on the other side of the vine-threaded fence barely registering beneath the slight breeze that whispers it was a good day. 

I just drove past Brentwood Magnet, sealed-up tight and as silent as a kid caught in a lie.

From the middle of March, when the cancellation of sports big and small confirmed with a disorienting finality that the Twilight Zone was a real place, I nursed the hope that by June, life would be back to normal, or least a workable version of it.

The possibility that we wouldn’t be on campus to celebrate our twentieth anniversary was too remote and too grim to contemplate. A few weeks later, even as LAUSD was canceling the remainder of the physical school year, I clung to the belief that, surely, campuses across the city would reopen for summer. The coup de grace arrived shortly after. Schools would remain shuttered until, virus-willing, mid-August.  

The sound of silence gave me a migraine. 

But kids need camp. They need to unplug their brains and power-up their primal selves. They need to run, jump, dance, draw, play, kick, shout, splash . . . and laugh. Camp is life’s laboratory, where kids get to experiment and experience and expand themselves among friends, unencumbered by expectations of anything weightier than who can burp the loudest, or catch the last water balloon, or braid the most intricate lanyard. 

A year after we got rescue terrier Brady, my daughter Dori decided that he needed a friend. He had a perfectly pampered life as an only pup, but Dori intuited that he would be happier with a comrade who barked his own language. Enter Reggie, another rescue with indecipherable DNA. The two boys have now been close buds for thirteen years, with an expiration date on their friendship hopefully out beyond the horizon. 

My point is that kids need to be around other kids.

Which is why, after watching camps all around me surrender to the Covid menace, we made the decision to go virtual. It wouldn’t be the same. There would be no full court basketball games, no kids squeezed onto the arts and crafts bench sharing glue sticks, and alas, no mudwrestling. But there would still be burping and lanyards and yes, even water balloons (with an assist from mom or dad). Campers will still get to run and jump and dance. Draw, play, kick, shout and splash. And there will still be a hell of a lot of laughter, which is the sweetest sound of summer there is.