2 and a half hours; 150 minutes; 9,000 seconds. After 7 weeks of hair-braiding, tear-wiping, hand-holding, and piggy-backing to create a community - a community where your daughter falls asleep to her friends’ whispers late at night, not the sounds of Tik Toks, where she can get up onstage to perform sheer nonsense (while at home she’s too nervous to raise her hand to answer a question in school) because here she feels like she can be whoever she wants to be, and where our girls genuinely cheer each other on as their best friends make intercamp teams, win Spirit Awards, and score leads in the play, rather than wince out of competitive jealousy because their peers’ resumes will be stronger - it only takes from when the bugle blows at 5am on Friday morning to when we hear that gut-wrenching crunch of the pebble path as the last bus rolls out at 7:30am to (what our girls consider) destroy it.
For years, we’ve described Romaca as a place that lies “away from the cares of the world”, where stresses and anxieties don’t exist, and everything is always perfect. When you see camp through that slightly rose-colored lens, OF COURSE it’s impossible to say goodbye; who wouldn’t want to live that carelessly forever? But as our girls grow up in a post-pandemic world, the “cares of the world” follow them everywhere; whether you’re in a bunk surrounded by girls who love you no matter who you are, or a school hallway with girls who look you up and down, our girls will always battle self-consciousness and insecurities. Romaca isn’t as careless as it used to be, which begs the question; if there are still stressors when we’re at camp, why do we still not want to leave?
Because at camp, our anxieties manifest differently. Instead of stressing over grades, we stress over who’s Romaca Relay flannel we’ll wear when we’re in Romrec burning the rope. Rather than dwelling on who’s invited to a party at school, we fixate on trying to predict who’s getting Olympics captain and lieutenant - as though our opinions will change the outcome. And instead of worrying about what to wear to school in order to look the coolest or the trendiest, we create outfit hierarchies for events like DJ Jeff, where the Clubhousers dress “nerdy”, the Annexers wear neon, and the Romrecers wear white tank tops. And for good reason - the latter stresses are far better than the former.
When talking about these crazy Romaca traditions and antics (some of which may externalize our ever present “real world” anxieties), Romacans coined the saying “it’s not that deep” this summer. Your neon orange tank top for DJ Jeff is darker than the other girls’ neon orange tank tops in your division? It’s not that deep; no one will notice, and you’ll look beautiful no matter what. Your older sister wore the same Romaca Relay flannel as another girl in your division’s older sister, and therefore you can’t both wear it? It’s not that deep; you and your sister will still have an incredibly emotional bond with one another from merely participating in the same moving experience, whether you wear her shirt during rope burn or not. You can’t come up with perfect pairings between 4 girls in Clubhouse, Annex, and Romrec to master your Olympics captain/lieutenant predictions? It’s not that deep; there’s some things in life that you can’t predict or control, and besides - wouldn’t you rather be surprised anyways?
But then we thought about it; if NOTHING at camp is “that deep”, then why are we all so emotionally invested in Romaca? Why does our heart sink when we hear the phrase “5 days” in a Secret Show Closing? Why does the sight of an empty parking lot in the middle of August make us feel like we’re suffocating? And why does the sound of the bugle at 5am on that one, specific Friday morning put a lump in our throat that feels like it’ll never go away?
Because some things ARE that deep. The Lip Sync your daughter made up with her bunk that her friends will perform at her Bat Mitzvah, at a college party when her camp friends visit and it comes on aux, and at her wedding IS that deep; it’s what she and her future bridesmaids created a friendship over when they were 8. And the t-shirt your daughter made for the special event she led that won’t fit her in a few months to a year, but will stay in her closet until you move out of the house she currently calls home IS that deep; it taught her leadership, teamwork, forward thinking, and, most importantly, gave your daughter and her friends something they’ll take more pride of and ownership over than their college alma mater for years to come.
When you come to think about it, it’s the little things that ARE that deep - the handholding, the songwriting, the belly laughing - and the big things - the outfits, the end-of-season special events, the insanely high expectations - that aren’t. Yes, the two can coincide, but our girls will remember the former over the latter any day; when your daughter is catching up on sleep all day today, she’ll dream of the warmth she felt from the hands she held at Olympic Crowning, not who got captain or lieutenant. As your kid sits at the dinner table tonight staring into space - instead of answering your countless questions about her summer - because she can’t quite articulate why talking about camp this soon after the fact breaks her heart instead of excites her, she’ll be missing the adrenaline rush and overcoming of emotions that she felt as the rope burned in Romaca Relay, not the prideful feeling of wearing the flannel shirt that every single older girl she’d ever had a close relationship with wore before her. And when your little Romacan crawls into your bed tonight because she’s lonely and scared without 4-20 friends sleeping by her side, she’ll be longing for the feelings of bliss and belonging felt at the end of DJ Jeff, not what she wore or how she looked while there.
So when you ask your daughter about her summer, ask about the deep things - the little things - rather than the big, stressful ones. Ask her about the confidence she feels on the Rec Hall stage, not how well she knew her lines in her play - whether that play was Willy Wonka with the Jinters or Secret Show with Romrec. Ask her why the freedom and independence of Free Play is so special, not how many soccer privates she managed to fit into that time. And have her explain to you why she lingers at her picnic table for an hour after she’s finished eating at Cookout with girls and counselors from other divisions, rather than scolding her for having sugary cereal at every meal.
Maybe one day the “real world” will care less about the big - the college acceptances, the salaries we make, or the cars we drive - and more about just being a kid. Until then, we try. We try every day to bring a little of that kid-like Romaca spirit to the world outside of it…and when you ask your girl about the warmth, the love, and the laughter she experiences at Romaca rather than the place she came in for Olympics or whether she’ll make varsity tennis in a week now that she’s home, you’re doing just that. Because just like The Lorax from Secret Show 2022 says, “unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not”. Until 2023…
All our love,
Carly, Rachel, & Schmaier