Sleepaway Camp: Fun For the Camper, Respite For His Family

Sleepaway Camp: Fun For the Camper, Respite For His Family

The other day, I had a vague sense that I was supposed to be doing something; that I’d forgotten something. I glanced down at my watch: 2:10 p.m., and I panicked. Ben takes his afternoon meds at 2:00 p.m. But I don’t have to give Ben his meds because he is away at camp for the month.

If last summer was any indication, it will take about a week before that gnawing mid-afternoon feeling disappears. Before I no longer remind myself to put out Ben’s morning med before I go to sleep. Before I stop dreaming about autism.

Ben’s time at camp is wonderful for him and that is the primary reason that we send him. The secondary reason: it’s a respite for us. Our family needs some time away from autism. Our other kids need some time to be our focus. My husband and I need time to reconnect as a couple. And I need time to recharge. But before any of this restoration can occur, we have to get through a pretty rocky fortnight.

The two-week gap between the end of school and the start of camp is a treacherous one. The lack of structure provided by the school day makes the time pass slowly. Any attempt to impose any sort of schedule on Ben is met with resistance and resentment. Yet Ben, who suffers from anxiety, tends to grow more anxious without an agenda. Add to that the transition from academic year to summer vacation and the changes at his camp — he was unbearable those two weeks.

Anxiety makes him wake up very early in the morning. As camp departure grew closer, his wake-up time got earlier and earlier. He became obsessive about accomplishing tasks during those very early hours. Such as deciding which Legos to bring – a noisy task no matter what the hour but most especially at 4:45 a.m. – and figuring out which iPod case would be the best choice. These endeavors were his coping mechanisms. They provided a sense of purpose and control.

So those two weeks were hard. Really, really hard. Ben, too, has been aware of the strain in our household and is overwhelmed by his own anxiety. He just wanted to get to camp because he knew that once he got there, he would relax. Nerves aside, I knew that too. I told him that I would miss him, but didn’t belabor the point.

Research, and by that I mean my own personal experience, has proven that emphasizing how much fun he will have rather than how much I will miss him does a much better job of allaying his own worries. I pull him into my arms for a strong hug and quickly shut the garage door after he and Warren pull away from the house.

Freedom. Freedom to breathe. To read. To travel. To renew old friendships. Freedom to be a calmer, quieter version of me.

And freedom for Ben. To experience. To change. To grow. Freedom to be whatever version of himself that he wants to be.

Getting to the Promised Land requires passing through narrow straits. But then we truly value that freedom.

Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr is a CLAL Rabbis Without Borders Fellow whose work appears regularly on the Rabbis Without Borders blog and as well as a variety of other websites. Writing at This Messy Life (, Rebecca finds meaning in the sacred and not-yet-sacred intersections of daily life. Follow her on Twitter @rebeccaschorr

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