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Camp Songs for Neurotic Parents

Anxious about sending your kids to camp? Don’t just fret—sing along to some of your favorite songs.

Marjorie Ingall
July 23, 2012
(Maureen Sill/Flickr)

This week, many Jewish kids—mine included—return from the first session of sleepaway camp. Maybe yours are getting ready right now for the second session. Or maybe they’re staying for both sessions and you’re in withdrawal. Whatever the case, this summer your kids will be learning a lot of camp songs, often the same ones you learned yourself many years ago. (A lot has changed since you went to camp—cell phones, social media, the need to fill out gazillions of legal forms before your child is allowed to breach the camp gates—but, as Led Zeppelin once said, the song remains the same.)

But why should kids be the only ones singing? Camp is an important touchstone for parents, too: It marks our children’s growing independence, a social and emotional life in which we’re no longer central, the beginning of the end of childhood. And that’s a source of anxiety for some parents, especially the ones who really, really don’t want to let go.

That’s why we’ve rewritten some familiar camp songs for today’s over-invested, lunatic helicopter parent! Some are Jewish camp classics; some are beloved American folksongs. You can sing them to yourself when you’re feeling weepy—missing your child, missing your youth, missing a world of possibility that is now utterly closed to you as you face a future of loneliness and the grave. Sing them to yourself, sniffling, as you stare at photos on the camp website, hitting “refresh” repeatedly, searching desperately for images of your child, reading all kinds of import into her body language and facial expressions and ratcheting yourself into a sphincter-tight little nubbin of anxiety. Or if you have a modicum of self-awareness, you can sing them to remind yourself not to be such a sentimental, tightly wound freak.

On top of the bunk bed …
All covered with sand
My Jacob could fall off
And break his right hand
My husband’s a lawyer
If my son ends up dead
We’ll sue all the counselors
Jake gets the bottom bed.

Hallelujah, sing a song …
Hallelujah, the kids are all gone
For one month my darling hubby and I
Will be alone with the stars in the sky
And all I want to know is just one thing …

Oh my God, WHAT will we talk about?
Oh my God, oy, I’m brimming with doubt.
We last talked in 2002
Without the kids, I guess I should talk to you …
When’s visiting day?

How many times must I tell you, my son
To lend out your hat is a sin
And don’t you dare borrow a comb or a brush
And stay away from the rock-climbing helmet
And don’t let your sis share barrettes or her tees
Before you give me agita
The lice aren’t your friends; they’re racing through the camp
And the lice lady costs an arm and a leg.

Don’t forget to use the bug spray
Don’t forget to use the bug spray
Don’t forget to use the bug spray
Or you’ll get ticks.

The ticks!
Are they worse than the DEET in the spray?
Oh God, the choice!
No peace!
I should have sent him to the chess camp
It is indoors.

This camp is your camp
It isn’t my camp
You need your selfhood
Your therapist said so
You need some distance
You need to individualize
This camp was made but not for me.

All the world is like
A very narrow bridge
A very narrow bridge
A very narrow bridge
All the world is like
A very narrow bridge
A very narrow bridge
And the main thing is to recall
To keep away from the edge.
And to drink enough water.
But mostly to keep away from the edge.

Baruch Atah Adonai,
Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam,
Is my child really gonna make us sing this, every day,
After every last meal now that camp is done?
Who knows how long this phase is gonna last
We wanted him to love
Being Jewish but oy oy oy
This is ambivalence right here!
Maybe if the camp director
Had let him keep his cell
We wouldn’t worry that he’d give up bacon.
Now I feel like the schmo hagadol
‘cause we eat Chinese food with some pork
And we love his commitment
But it’s freaking us out
And we hate to admit
That we hope this is a phase.
Baruch Attah Adonai, who gives us Jewish camp.


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Marjorie Ingall is a columnist for Tablet Magazine, and author of Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Successful, Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children.

Marjorie Ingall is a former columnist for Tablet, the author of Mamaleh Knows Best, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.