It has been nearly 25 years since my last summer at camp and still, at least once a week, I have recurring dreams that I’m back on senior hill. I see myself young, careless and fancy free running on 28N during a period off. Then, out of nowhere, the scene changes and I realize I have a family, kids, job and I begin to panic! The responsibilities of the present hit me in the face, 28N fades away and I move forward into another day of adulting.
And as an adult, I’m busy! I work full time, I travel with the family and explore and do all sorts of things! And most importantly, the summer of 2020, THIS summer, was the year my oldest was finally going to Baco! The sheer joy in the convergence of my camper self and my mom self was too much to contain and this was finally it! The depth of my camp experience is, and has always been, on full display in our house. My BFFs are my camp friends, my kids know all the words to camp songs since obviously, these were the songs I sang to them as babies! Then Covid. What the What!? Everything changed on a dime. Fear and anxiety and as we adjusted and reconfigured ourselves to navigate this unprecedented time I knew deep down that I was also heartsick for my boy and for myself. For the first time ever, camp was cancelled.
As we began to lean into our new routine of everyone being on top of one another at all times, non stop while trying to maintain some kind of work schedule while simultaneously navigating home schooling and cooking meals faster than a short order cook at the diner on northern boulevard, I couldn’t believe my luck! FAMILY CAMP! What the What!? Not only was I going to be able to return to camp as a camper (be still my heart) but I was going to be able to share it with my family? We were going to be campers for the weekend!? Someone else was going to cook!? I quickly did the math on how many bunks they had available per weekend and went into a tailspin. What if I didn’t get a spot? When was the link being sent out? I refreshed my gmail over and over for days. I was like a teenager trying to score tickets to Madonna from Ticketmaster (from the stationary kitchen telephone with the long wrap around cord). Then finally, my dream came true! I was going to be able to sleep at camp! In a bunk! In a camp bed! Surrounded by camp sounds, camp smells, camp people. I have gone through life smelling camp and now I was going to actually, physically smell camp again! It wasn’t CNW but it was literally the next best thing, Baco.
August 6th, 2020 was our Family Camp weekend and fortunately we were able to coordinate with The Plums (Wisemans). We all decided to sleep in North Creek the night before so that we would not miss one minute of the weekend. My son, Marco and Chase Wiseman (also 10 & a returning Baco camper) excitedly greeted each other upon arrival and we were off to a magical start. The next morning we pulled into the Baco parking lot at 11:31a (camp was called for 11:30a and we didn’t want to appear overly eager). Greg and Danny met us with golf carts and brought our stuff down to the Fun House.
The excitement of unpacking into cubbies, setting our toiletries into the bathroom and making the beds hit me hard. At one point I just fell back on the bed looking up at the rafters expecting to be pulled from this dream but it wasn’t a dream, it was real! It was 2020 Family Camp, our Covid silver lining.
It is well documented in my house that I have a tendency to step outside myself during times when I am fully happy. It’s hard for me to stay in the moment because I don’t want the experience to end. I become obsessed with counting down the minutes I have left and in doing so, I foolishly squander the time I am ACTUALLY there. For example, I prefer Friday because it is close to the weekend but not close enough that it will be over soon. Sunday might as well not exist in my mind because it’s basically Monday. This time though, I had to be present for my wife and my 2 boys, all camp newbies. I couldn’t just float away because they kept pulling me into the present (what exactly is lightning ball? Where are the snacks? Is that a mouse?) and being forced into the moment was a gift.
Speaking of gifts, the first night was one of those camp nights that can’t be planned. There is no rhyme or reason, it is just a magical event. Somehow, on Thursday night, we ended up in Plum’s bunk. You know those nights after evening activity when you find yourself in a random bunk, with a random group of people and laugh and talk and giggle and bond and don’t want it to end? It was exactly that, and not only was it magical for me, but I shared it with Marco. It was truly surreal. On our dark walk back to our bunk, he whispered, “that was so fun, can we do it again tomorrow night???!” and right then and there I knew he had just experienced the magic of camp.
The next morning, Saturday, was a perfect Adirondack blue sky day. We spent the morning at the lake, skiing and paddleboarding, and then Marco found his camp legs. Or rather, he found Roger Frisch, Jack Shrier and Chase and I didn’t see him again until dinner! The basketball courts, super dome, tennis, bunks and anywhere/everywhere that called to them. I saw the shift from Marco, my son, to Marco, Baco boy.
Leading into this summer, before Covid, I worried about his departure for camp and how he would acclimate. Of course I knew he would love it but I still worried about him feeling lonely or scared and having to take those moments on by himself. As we walked the grounds during the weekend, there were moments where I couldn’t help but think that this might have actually been the best possible scenario. He was able to get comfortable at camp without feeling homesick and over the course of those few days, he got to know his way around and bond with his new friends. Not to mention the bonus of being able to share it with him and the super surreal bonus of sharing it with MY own camp friends (Plum, Les, Satin) and their kids!
One of the most shocking things for me was my youngest boy, Casey (6), who had never expressed any interest in camp. He isn’t really a sporty kid like Marco but right before my eyes he shed his skin and the camper in him began to shine like a bright star. During lightning ball, he was fist bumping waiters, when the breakfast bell rang, he was out the door and first in line giving Jane a big covid mask smile with a tray in hand (before we even left the bunk). During the campfire, he was elephant freezing his way around the fire to cheers from the older girls chanting, “Casey, Casey, Casey!” I watched in awe as he soaked it all in and while the jury is still out on him going to camp summer 2021, I think we all know he just became a Baco boy.
Obviously, no camp experience is complete without a Talent Show and of course, Family Camp did not disappoint. One thing my family has is talent. Well not me, but my wife Nini is a musician and Marco plays trumpet. One summer a few years back, Nini was invited to break blue & gold at CNW. The CNW girls had spent that particular summer listening to Nini’s music (thanks to Les!) and they knew every lyric. When Nini surprised them by showing up to play at their talent show, it was amazing.They sang and swayed arm in arm and then, when they least expected it, Nini changed the lyrics of a song to “…and now we break blue and gold”. Instantly the room shook as every girl in the room exploded from her seat! I had chills everywhere.
So, fast forward to Family Camp and luckily Marco brought his trumpet, we had already talked about the prospect of him playing the talent show but he wasn’t sure he was going to participate. If he was going to do it, he figured he would/could play the theme from Rocky. When Rick got wind of this, they created a whole plan to have Marco join in as Rick spoke from the heart about what a summer it had been and how we will persevere, etc. However, as it was getting closer and closer to showtime, Marco became more and more panicked. He was so nervous to perform and as much as we tried to talk him down, he wouldn’t listen. I don’t know what it was but something clicked in him and he mustered up the guts to do it. With Rick’s epic speech and the rocky theme echoing off the hills, the crowd went wild. He felt like a rockstar. He overcame his fear and I was so proud. Camp will do that to you. Getting strong now…..Gonna fly now…
I think the funniest moment of the weekend came on the last morning. We had one last opportunity on Lake Balfour and so a group of us took out some boats & paddleboards for one last go around. It was a gorgeous morning with the haze lifting off the lake, the sound of the water on the boats as we all came together. The adults were mostly floating and the kids were jumping on and off their paddle boards when suddenly Marco swam up with a pained grimace and a bloody, sliced foot. It was obviously deep enough that we couldn’t ignore it (who me?). Nini and I quickly exchanged a glance and simultaneously started paddling back in. He got a ride back in the putt putt as they radio’d in that he was coming in bleeding and everyone sprung into action! At the shore he was met by Dr. Traci Nadel Friedman who quickly assessed the situation and was off to her car to get her emergency stash of glue, Lenie stayed close keeping Marco calm on the beach and then, of course, the notorious Dr. Bookvar saunters off the ski boat. “What’s happening here?”. A few hilarious jokes later, about how Dr. Bookvar plays a doctor on TV, how Andy Grabel is in Advertising and can he help in any way? How Dr. Bookvar is Dr. Friedman’s assistant during this “surgery” and how this “surgery” would cost us 50 grand in real life. In that moment we were all kids seeing ourselves as grown ups, or grown ups seeing ourselves as kids – it’s hard to pinpoint which. What I do know is that Marco felt protected and cared for in that moment and will remember it long after the scar fades away.
And that was it. My minutes had counted down and we were now back on 28N. We were headed home or, as I really knew, we were leaving home. I was in this reverie of thoughts and emotion when I heard Marco say “I feel sick in my stomach” and I knew what he meant, I felt it too. It was the ache I felt every summer on the bus ride back to NY knowing I was leaving the place where I felt most myself.
Thanks Barbara, Allison, Greg, Danny, Jane, Rick, Lenie, Amy, Max, and everyone who made this possible. Your effort was huge and we are forever grateful. Summer 2021 here we come.