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The Happiest Place on Earth

August 12, 2012

I know Disney World makes this claim, but I’m here to tell you, they lie. If Disney truly wanted to be the happiest place on earth they’d quit with the pipped-in, over-ecstatic, self-promotional music, the prefabricated, phony town of overpriced merchandise and the pre-paid, pre-arranged appointments to see princesses, which is the sole reason you’re in Disney World in the first place.

They would also assign each child visitor with his or her own chaperone for the week so the parents would never have to step foot in any one of the resort’s theme parks and could lie by the pool sipping martinis and actually enjoy a vacation they spent their entire life’s savings on.

For the price of admission, I don’t know how could Disney not offer personal chaperones.

The hills are alive with the sound of music.

But enough of Disney and their vicious lies. I’ve found the true holder of this title, and it’s Camp Broaden Your Horizons.

I sent my kids there this summer after conducting an comprehensive investigation of all camps in the tri-state area. Well, after having my husband conduct an comprehensive investigation of all camps in the tri-state area.

I’ve sought out, signed up and delivered my kids to camp every single year they have been on this planet minus before they could walk, and I thought maybe Kevin could locate one for every 10 years I’ve done so. After months of exhaustive research Kevin did that and more. He found the answer to all my prayers.

Par-TAY.

From the moment I first set eyes on Camp BYH, I knew it was the place for me. For years I’d been sending my kids to the cheap-but-completely-inexcusable-excuse-for-a-camp my town runs before switching to the more costly but still cheap-yet-well-run YMCA camp. I thought we had the whole camp scramble locked up for good. Actually, if I could I would send my kids to camp year-round. The Y had better hours than school, never closed and didn’t ask me for a thing beside the fee, which I happily skipped down to the office to pay because where else can you spend $300 a week for two kids and have them occupied for six hours straight? Plus, my kids learned how to swim, had gym and got outdoor time every single day. Might I suggest this model to the public school system?

Then last year I found myself facing a heart-wrenching decision. Either listen to my kids’ incessant whining every day of summer because they didn’t want to return to the Y or switch camps.

While I generally don’t care what kind of camp experience my kids have as long as they are attended to by someone other than me, our final year at the Y didn’t go down so well. All previous years at the Y had been wonderful so I had no reason to believe last year would be any different. Except that last year rather than attending the Y camp at the Y, my kids were shipped off to the Y camp at the lake. This was the camp for older kids. Even better I thought because for practically the same price my kids would be gone for even longer. The camp at the lake was a solid 45 minutes away, and the Y provided bus service. I didn’t think life could get any sweeter.

But my kids weren’t too keen on the murky, brown lake, the camp activities were more of suggestions than actual activities and black bears made several guest appearances. I was OK with the first two issues, but I had to inquire about the black bear situation. I needed to know if the Y was aware that bears occasionally eat people, especially little, helpless people and find out what safety procedures were in place. Which was when the 17-year-old counselor instructed me not to worry because black bears don’t attack people. And, in all his earnestness, he may have been able to convince me had he not added, “not even to defend their young.”

Now, I may not have studied up on black bear psychology or heard the most recent bear behavior research but protecting young is pretty much an animal’s innate response.

Other factors, beyond being eaten, also contributed to our decision to find a new camp, but I can’t get into them now (I’ll tell you later). Suffice it to say come January of the new year we were once again on the hunt for a new camp for the kids.

And in Camp BYH we found it. I think I even caught a little glimpse of heaven.

Although Camp BYH was way out of our league and budget, we decided to attend the open house because when you see heaven in your midst you just don’t turn away. Plus, if you went to the open house you got a discount upon signing up.

Once inside there was no turning back. It might have cost more than my entire college tuition, but my kids were going.

The place offered every activity known to humankind. Our kids could choose from music lessons, swim lessons, golf lessons, acting classes, singing lessons, magic classes, hand-built pottery, throwing on the wheel, photography, Tae Kwon Do, rocketry, plastic model making, comic book club and fashion design. The list ran single-spaced down both sides of a legal sheet of paper, and you could pick whatever you wanted. The camp held periods and provided a number of options from which to choose during each. It provided bussing but if you didn’t use it you got another discount (I was racking up the discounts) and supplied free pizza lunch on Wednesdays. The pool was heated, the building airconditioned and each camper received his or her own red canvas backpack (no need to buy back-to-school supplies). Camp BYH even provided t-shirts, one for each day of the week, so I would never have to do summer clothes shopping or haggle with my kids about what to wear everyday. In one fell swoop Camp BYH simplified my entire life, something no one else had ever done for me.

I decided I could not survive summer without Camp BYH. I needed them. And they needed me.

So on the first day of summer vacation off we went to the best summer experience of our lives. Pulling into the camp parking lot, I saw all the councilors lined up waiting to receive us. I cruised over, and the councilors opened the car door, helped the kids out and lead them inside. I didn’t even have to get out of the car. I didn’t see or interact with anyone. I had found my people.

And, as impossible as it seems, it got better. At pick up time while I did have to get out of the car to collect my kids, the camp organized the the car line in such a way that you could pull up, jump out, grab your kid and hop back in. Then, with everyone safely inside their vehicles, a councilor gave the O.K., and the line rolled down the  mile-long drive all the while passing by an unbroken stream of smiling and waving councilors. The councilors actually lined up to smile and wave. Smile and wave.

And that, my friends, is the happiest place on earth.

Photo: Flickr/Wikipidia (top); USAG-Humphreys (bottom)

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