July 23, 2024
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July 23, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

As someone who’s gone on three overnights with my sons’ day camp (fifth and sixth grade), I’ve learned that a responsible chaperone is one who makes a checklist. Not just of things to remember to bring (first-aid kit, food, boys) and things to remember to bring home (first-aid kit, random towels, boys), but also of things that apparently have to happen. On every trip.

  1. Something bad will happen to the van(s).

The first time I went, the camp sent a series of vans, which was the main reason we had chaperones. There was me, the head counselor and another father who was also a Hatzalah guy. (In an emergency situation, you want to have a Hatzalah guy, a head counselor and whatever it is that I am.)

So we were going to the JCC for a night swim, and it was raining, and I was circling the block in a van I could barely maneuver, trying to find the entrance to the parking lot, but all I could find was the exit, and I could see kids getting out of the other vans because Mr. Hatzalah Guy had somehow gotten his van to every single destination on the itinerary before us, so I went for it. But what I didn’t see was that there were spikes on the ground in front of the exit. I don’t know why a JCC in Pennsylvania is so paranoid about people coming in the wrong way that they have to put down spikes, but I popped a tire. I don’t know how I managed to pop only one.

Then the next morning, the other chaperone was backing into a parking spot near the shul, and he had his bike rack on the back of his van, propped up against his window, and he misjudged the amount of space between his van and the wall of the shul, and baruch Hashem his window gave way and he didn’t just back straight into the shul.

In short, no damage the kids caused on any of the trips was as bad as the damage the chaperones caused. I had to drive home on a donut, and the other guy had to drive home with a garbage bag over the window so he wouldn’t lose yarmulkes. Which brings us to #2:

  1. You will lose yarmulkes.

On my most recent trip, one kid lost a yarmulke on the bus and spent most of the way there trying to find it. He lost it because the windows were open, because every school bus in existence was built before the invention of air conditioning.

But at least I found it after everyone left the bus. Someone else lost a yarmulke later, and I didn’t notice until the next morning when we were getting into the bus after Shacharis. In Lakewood.

I’m like, “You’re not wearing a yarmulke? In Lakewood?”

And yes, we took a bus this time. But when you take buses,

  1.  The driver will keep threatening to pull over.

And every time the driver threatened to pull over, we had to turn around and tell the kid to stop. And by “we” I mean “the counselors,” because I don’t know anyone’s names. I can just say, “Sit down,” but the kid standing would say, “I didn’t know you were talking to me.”

“I was talking to everyone. I’m not picking on one guy. Also, I don’t know your name.”

“My name’s on my yarmulke.”

“You’re not wearing your yarmulke.”

“I know. I’m looking for it.”

This is not to say I didn’t have responsibilities.

  1. You will have responsibilities.

When you sign up to be a chaperone, you’re thinking you’ll go boating, swimming, night swimming, tire replacing… And then, right before you leave, you’re handed a list: Two guys are gluten sensitive, one has celiac disease, one is hypoglycemic and one might have seizures.

So I should spend the whole trip davening?

This isn’t something I had to think about the first time I chaperoned, when there was a hatzalah guy present. But this time, I outranked every other adult by at least 15 years. And apparently, someone in the office had a bright idea to send out a form before the overnight, asking the parents what kinds of medical issues their child has. And there was a bag of medications I had to administer at very specific times, even though I didn’t know anyone’s names. But some kids have serious allergies. One mother wrote that her son is allergic to kiwi, apples, pineapples and sesame. How healthfully do you think we’re going to be feeding them? We’re having Slurpees for breakfast.

  1.  The food will be kid friendly.

And by “kid friendly,” I mean things that an adult should not be eating. In general, if you want anything that’s a little more healthy, you have to bring it yourself. For example, on my second trip, the counselors decided to have a secret barbecue after the kids were down and the head counselor was stuck in the gym tripping over kids and saying, “Shh,” for three hours. And that reminds me…

  1.  Sleeping on the floor is not for adults.

Especially those of us with bad backs.

So for my last trip, I decided to buy an air mattress. And I learned a valuable lesson: Don’t inflate your bed in the dark: Number one, the pump is noisy, and number two, I had the pump going for 10 minutes before someone figured out that I had the mattress plugged into the “deflate” side. Why is there even a “deflate” side? I can deflate it just by sleeping.

But anyway,

  1. The kids don’t go to sleep.

I don’t know if it’s the excitement or the diet or the fact that they’re sleeping in a room full of echoes, but no one sleeps. I’m not sure why we bother packing sleeping bags. They just make the bus more crowded, and the only people who sleep on the bus are the counselors.

By Mordechai Schmutter


Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia and other magazines. He also has six books out and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].

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