Then they came for Visiting Day
Visiting Day is the most recent social institution to come under attack, as several camps have banded together to end the bi-summer tradition and put a stop to the inconvenience, the traffic, and the disruption for the kids. I understand the position, but my unpopular take is that I like Visiting Day and I’m happy my children go to camps that still hold on to mesorah.
The sugya here is not camp, but one of absence and presence, distance and proximity, parents and children.
Now, regular readers of this column (a phrase that real opinion writers use, one I don’t think I’ve ever had the chance to drop yet) know that I sometimes use this space to cover the joys of out-of-town living.
Visiting Day is not one of them.
Living out of town means that by the time the gates of camp open and the 17-year-old kids in orange vests holding walkie-talkies and playing parking lot attendant wave you in and you can finally see your child, you’ve probably been on the road for many hours and you have tremendous cheishek to climb up onto the bunkbed that seems impossibly close to the ceiling and take a quick nap on sheets that have not and will not be changed.
But you can see your child. Those are the key words. And in that moment, nothing else makes a difference.
Then the whole commotion starts up again. Where to go? Visiting Day affords you several hours to hang out, sometimes with more than one child in more than one camp, so you’ll be doing a loop between Route 17 and 52 and a few backroads that only Waze knows about, an all-day excursion that makes Chol Hamoed trips look easy.
Sometimes, a child has thoughtfully saved up his dirty laundry so that his mother can have the joy of performing this maternal task during her visit. For some reason, the camps allow this clearly discriminatory move against the non-Catskills summer home-owning class, and then you need local friends or family with available washing machine space. You pretend you dropped in to say hello, were just passing by, and then when they offer you a cold drink, you casually say, “Sure, and two hours in your laundry room would be amazing too!”
But you are with your child.
An undeclared (but major) reason behind the movement to ban Visiting Day was the general confusion regarding the dress code. Even regular Sunday polo shirt wearers were unsure what the geder of Visiting Day is — somewhere between family outing at the park and high school graduation, maybe? — and the white shirt chevreh were unwilling to brand themselves as too staid, ’cause you know, shidduchim, lots of people there. Maybe they’re cheering for those camps that abolished Visiting Day, but I’m not.
It’s a long day, an expensive day, and a somewhat exhausting day, but you’re with your child.
The sun sets, and you do the loop again: dropping them off and hauling flats of 24 water bottles and clean laundry, and then comes the hardest part.
You say goodbye and you see your child swallowing, trying to be brave, but you know how you feel inside and you’re not a child anymore. Five minutes after you pull out, you wonder if it was worth it — yes, the day was magical, but now you made them homesick when they were doing okay! Now you plucked them out of a parallel universe and reminded them of regular life!
So what’s takeh the pshat? Why is Visiting Day a good idea?
A friend suggested something that I found not just profound, but also timely.
He said that the wistfulness and longing children feel for home, even if it leaves them a bit melancholy that night until they fall asleep, is a gift to them: they have a home where they are loved and cherished, the sort of place that they miss when they are away.
The brush with regular life that comes along with Visiting Day allows them — and us — to get through the rest of the summer knowing how blessed we are.
As members of a generation accustomed to processing experiences and events in an emotional way, we tend to have a harder time with the avodah of this period — the Three Weeks — than with some of the other seasons in the Jewish calendar.
By the time Tishah B’Av approaches, hopefully we will have heard some story or insight — and there is so much, so many great speakers, so many platforms that offer depth and meaning — that made us realize we’re not okay. The reality of galus is that it has caused every single one of us suffering, pain, and loss on a personal level, and this is the season to contemplate grief.
This one is gone, that one is broken, and the third one is in pain. Galus. The world is off-kilter (by design), and until it’s righted, the suffering will come in waves.
Imagine, for a moment, the following painful scenario. A father and mother make the trek up to the Catskills, giving up a summer Sunday, waking up early, braving traffic to finally arrive in camp. They see their little tzaddik/tzaddeikes from a distance and they spread their arms apart, so eager….
They hurry toward their child, but he or she looks right past them, barely even aware that they have come. “Hi,” says the child, “what’s up? I’m running to join a ball game” [sorry, I can’t do girls’ meshalim] “maybe we’ll catch up later?”
Within the mourning of the Three Weeks there is a sweetness, a little note of hope that sends us back up to our feet on Tishah B’Av afternoon: our Father came to see if we miss Him as much as He misses us, and even if we are not yet together, the longing is real.
The pain of motzaei Visiting Day is a gift, because it allows both parents and children to reflect on what they have: a place worth missing.
Maybe by the time you read this, we will have climbed back in to the car, buckled up, and gone back Home, back to the place that sustained us, nourished us, welcomed us, and exhilarated us.
But if not, remember that the wistfulness itself is the greatest cause for hope.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 970)
Oops! We could not locate your form.