Usually, June is that whirlwind time where the end of the school year looms large and weddings and graduations dot the calendar, the entire month awash in the excitement of sleepaway camp, beckoning enticingly in very near future.
But this year? Like so many other things over the past few months, June has been filled with restrictions and disappointments during a “new normal” that none of us ever asked for. And with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo dropping the bombshell that New York’s overnight camps will remain closed for the summer, parents and kids alike are trying to deal with a situation that is really quite painful to bear.
As a lifelong camper, trust me when I tell you that I feel your kids’ pain and yours as well. In addition to enjoying my summers in the Catskills as a kid, my wife works as a camp nurse and we Glucks have spent the last 11 summers upstate, an experience that we look forward to all year long. Having been in sleepaway camp as both a kid and a parent, I firmly believe that it is a necessity, not a luxury, providing kids with an opportunity for tremendous growth and giving parents a welcome reprieve for a few weeks. Given how stressful and uncertain life has been over the past few months, sleepaway camp was even more important than ever this year, leaving many of us wondering how to fill the very unwelcome summer-sized void that just ripped a giant hole in our lives.
As parents, we are responsible for teaching our kids to make the best of every situation and to use all of the tools at our disposal to get through even difficult situations. Far from just glossing over the disappointment our kids are now facing, it is important to validate their feelings and tell them that we understand how much they were looking forward to their summer in camp with their friends and appreciate how hard things are for them right now. Encourage your kids to share their feelings without downplaying them - some may choose to discuss their thoughts and emotions, while others might want to retreat to their own space. Let your kids know you are there for them, no matter what, and give them the opportunity to process the situation in the way that works best for them.
Life with COVID has been tough for all of us and it is crucial for us to model good behavior for our kids, showing them by example how to deal with tough situations. Seeing a parent’s angry outburst can actually be traumatizing to children, so while we are all under a significant amount of stress, I urge you to deal with those pressures as calmly as possible when your kids are around in order to help them build their natural resilience. Amudim’s five educational videos created during the coronavirus outbreak can help kids and adults cope with stress, disappointment and other strong emotions which can be helpful in a variety of situations and are available at www.amudim.org/relax. Our anonymous mental health support line, which was also launched during the pandemic, is another invaluable asset for both parents and children who are suffering from anxiety or depression, with free professional help available 7 days a week, from 8 a.m. – 11 p.m. at 718-972-3000 and, for those who are struggling or in crisis, as always, Amudim is just a phone call away, by calling the main Amudim number at 646-517-0222.
Keeping your kids busy and productive during the summer is definitely going to be a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. Day camps offer a wide variety of programs and are a very attractive option this summer, and your local community organizations, JCCs and shuls are a good resource for finding available programs, some of which may even be offering subsidies. Trusted neighbors can be a lifesaver when it comes to keeping children entertained and older siblings can be helpful as well, although they should be rewarded in some way for entertaining their brothers and sisters. There are practically endless wholesome activities and program available online, although proper adult guidance and/or supervision are always necessary, and for those who prefer to stay disconnected, off the grid options can include puzzles, family game days/nights. and hands-on activities; let your kids try their hand at woodworking, baking, crafts and even gardening - they might just surprise themselves (and you!) with their abilities. Plan family outings such as hikes, picnics, biking, boating, and even short getaways, and take advantage of additional venues that open as the current restrictions to create even more memories with your kids.
It would be dishonest for me to pretend that I have all the answers and the truth is that I am in the same boat as everyone else, trying to ease my own kids’ disappointment while trying to create a memorable summer for them. I wish I could wave a magic wand and make all of this disappear, but this is our current reality and we all have to deal with this to the best of our abilities, figuring out what will resonate most with our kids and turning that into a plan of action. Now is our chance to shine as parents by turning a major disappointment into a positive situation, an incredible life lesson that will serve our children well throughout their lives. Years from now, when we look back at this time, hopefully we will all remember it as a positive and memorable summer, as well as an unprecedented opportunity to spend time together as a family - a truly priceless gift.
By Zvi Gluck