Happy Campers

I tagged along yesterday as an older and wiser camper took my daughter on a tour of her new sleep away camp. We visited the arts and crafts cabin, petted an old horse in the stable and walked to the archery range.

But the most happening stop on the tour was at the stage set. The crew was painting, building, finding props for the production of Charlotte’s Web. Or maybe it was The Ugly Duckling. I was only half listening to the tour guide, hypnotized as I was by the young women working.

The campers and counselors were totally in the zone, like bees building a hive. Each doing their own thing, but doing it for a greater good. Work can be like this — like parallel play; like, we are doing our own thing, but we are side by side. And it all comes together in the end.

When I taught drama to kids, I tried to teach them that the lead role in a show was a small piece in a much bigger puzzle. The real world and work of theater is about collaboration. There are box office managers, set designers, costumers, musicians, lighting engineers, a variety of skilled craftspeople.

Theater is about craft — not about celebrity. It is about being in community and building something even brighter than the brightest star. Theater is about snapping the jigsaw pieces together to create the production.

As our tour guide and my daughter drifted ahead, I dawdled. I wondered if parenting, which often feels like my work alone, is a collaborative project, like a theater production. And maybe this is why I like sending my kids to camp. Yes, they are the brightest stars in my personal production. But they are, like all of us, workers on a set in a production even larger than I understand. They are co-creators of a new show. And I have to let them go.

As parents and as campers, we play our bit parts. We help build the set.

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Bel Kaufman

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Yesterday was Bel Kaufman’s 100th birthday. I met her at the Dutch Treat Club, a luncheon club for people in the arts at the National Arts Club. The woman is an inspiration. She’s funny, smart, honest and beautiful. Bel is the author of Up the Down Staircase and a recent hire, the oldest ever, at Hunter College.

Just the other night at dinner, H. said, “My next girlfriend will be a model.” (I didn’t know he had a last girlfriend.)

“There’s too much emphasis on physical beauty,” I said. “Look around you and find beautiful people in your real world, like your Uncle Brendan or Laura from church. They’re beautiful. Make them your idols. Not models or superstars.” Like the rest of the world, my kids are way too in love with celebrities.

The great thing about living in New York is that there are so many amazing, old people. And Bel said, she prefers the term “old people” to “seniors” which sounds like they’re still in high school.

She’s my role model. I love the way she looks and commands a room. I hope that when I am 100, I will be so fabulous.

In this blog, I’ve written a lot about New York’s natural beauty and art. But there are many beautiful people too — as many beautiful people as flowering trees in spring and paintings in the museum.