Day 49: Bye-bye Camp

May 15, 2020

Gindling Hilltop Camp, Summer 2015

Tomorrow (Saturday) is my day of rest. See you back here on Sunday!

Welp, that’s it. They’ve cancelled summer.

No Hollywood Bowl. No traveling out of Los Angeles (so says the mayor). And now, no camps.

We’ve had at least one kid at Jewish sleep-away camp (Gindling Hilltop, to be precise) since the summer of 2009. Even this year, with our youngest graduated from the camper program and our oldest aging out of the counselor track, our 19-year-old was supposed to be there as a counselor and song leader. He was so excited to do this that, back in the innocent days of January, he told the guidance counselor at his college jazz program not to bother finding him summer opportunities. He had his plan.

Then, yesterday, we got the email. “I am greatly saddened to share…” it began. I’m sure you know how that goes, and where it ends.

It’s hardly an outlier. Tumbleweed Day Camp in Brentwood, the local Girl Scout camps, JCA Shalom in Malibu — all of them are closed. I found a few still hanging on, hoping against hope for a summer miracle, including my childhood haunts, Cali-Camp and Riverway Ranch Camp. But you have to wonder, are they that much smarter or luckier than everyone else?

Of course, it’s a tragedy for the campers, all those little kids who’ve tried so hard to sit still in front of computers for weeks on end, and their parents, who don’t know how they can bear another minute alongside them. I feel for all of them. I have friends in that boat.

But it’s not easy for my son, either. Right now, he’s outside in the garage office, trying to coax some music from his trombone. It’s maddeningly hard to concentrate, he says.

I told him I heard the online classes at the local community college are filling up fast. He’s talked about clearing some Gen Eds out of the way this summer. But now, he’s not ready to register.

He’s also talked about working at a grocery store. At first, I said no way. We’ve already got enough germs walking in the door every night when his dad returns from clinic. Now, though, I figure — just do it. Something to get him up in the morning is better than a whole lot of nothing.

My friends say there’s a Help Wanted sign at the local bagel shop.

Maybe, he says.

I don’t know, he says.

I’m going outside to practice, he says.

It’s frustrating to make a decision you never wanted to make. It’s sad to lay down plans for June, July and August, three months that are no longer a summer, when your perfect summer just slipped through your grasp.

He’s mourning, I guess. Just like the rest of us. I guess you have to take time to say goodbye to the summer that was supposed to be, before you can greet the months that lie before you.

Day 33: Summer?

April 29, 2020

Summer’s creeping closer and we have no plan.

There’s no vacation booked.

The 21-year-old, who was supposed to intern at a congressional office in Washington, D.C., will be living at home, instead. Just like he’s been here since March, instead of studying in Ghana. No idea at all how he’ll fill those three months. If I ask him, he changes the subject.

The 19-year-old obsessively tracks news about sleep-away camps. He was supposed to be a counselor and song leader at our family’s beloved Jewish camp, Gindling Hilltop. Last year, Hilltop and its sister camp, Hess Kramer, had to scramble after a fire burned down their longtime Malibu homes. But the camps persevered, and found a new, temporary spot on the campus of Cal State Channel Islands in Camarillo. It seemed like the worst was behind them — until the coronavirus hit. Now our son waits each day to see what camp administrators will decide. If camp is cancelled, he says, he’ll stay home and do more trombone practice (really? that’s even possible?) and take a gen ed class or two at Santa Monica College. He seems kind of excited about the possibility — until someone tells him camp might be on, and then a new light sparks in his eyes.

The 16-year-old’s grand summer plan was to get a job at Brooke Rodd, a women’s clothing boutique on Ocean Park Blvd in Santa Monica, about a 15 minute bus ride from our house. The lovely ladies at Brooke Rodd didn’t know about her dream, but it didn’t seem like an unreasonable ambition to me. Now Brooke Rodd has been closed since mid-March. When they re-open, if they re-open, will they want a rising high school junior whose resume consists of babysitting jobs and a stint as a teacher’s assistant in the four-year-old classroom at Temple Isaiah’s religious school?

My mantra these days is Try Not to Worry. I do, I really do try. But it’s nearly May 1st. The 19-year-old is one final away from finishing his freshman year of college. Tomorrow, he’ll have nothing but time on his hands. In a few weeks, his sister will follow.

The 21-year-old has a few essays due to Ghanian professors to wrap up his credits from there. In the meantime, he continues to ride his bike.

All three of our kids are ambitious. At the moment, the middle one channels that into his music classes and trombone playing. Our youngest is determined to slay her A.P. exams. The oldest has nothing to prove these days — the essays are pretty easy and straightforward — so, it seems, he created something. Once a week, every week, he bikes a little further.

Today he rode from our house to Agoura, down to Malibu, and up Temescal home. Here are his stats, for those of you who are into such things:

I’m grateful he’s found such a productive way to take these lemons and make lemonade. I hope the summer, for all three of them, goes this smoothly. The hardest part — for me, anyway — is I don’t know how bad it’s going to be. Will we only have to make minor adjustments? Will the summer be just like the spring — which feels unbearable? (Though I know I will bear it, because there’s no other choice.)

Usually, when one of them pops up against a new obstacle, either their dad or I has been there before, and has some advice to offer. But we’ve never seen this before, either.

We may all be groping through the dark together.