By Aaron Selkow, CLC Owner/Director
Memorial Day weekend in 1994 was a very special time for me. It wasn’t extraordinary solely because of the fun I had with Paul, Michele, and Jill staying in a dilapidated motel in Atlantic City, New Jersey for a few days. The butterflies I was consumed by as I prepared to drive from the Jersey Shore to Pinemere Camp at the end of the weekend for my first season as a year-round camp professional were notable, but it was something that happened while I was walking on the beach with Paul that was the most remarkable. Something that changed the course of my life forever.
I met Ann Kleiner. Some of you know her as your best and most trusted friend, or as the consummate professional that has been the backbone of an organization for the last 20 years that you’re connected to. Ann is my inspirational and tireless life partner, mother of our exceptional daughter, and the catalyst keeping our extended family, friends, and lives together. And now she will be working alongside me as we become the owners and directors of Chestnut Lake Camp in Beach Lake, Pennsylvania.
That weekend more than 25 years ago was the first chapter in our life together. Before that, Ann and I had grown up two miles and two years apart without knowing how closely-connected and interwoven our experiences had been: mutual friends of our own and through our families, countless seasons on courts and fields playing sports not far from each other, summers at camps just miles apart, the same venue to celebrate our coming-of-age in the Jewish community with friends — Union Fire House in Narberth — and a simpatico that we would discover almost immediately on our first date in November of 1995. That first date was followed by an inseparable bond and relentless laughter that hasn’t stopped, even when our most difficult moments have surfaced since we were married in 1998. Meeting on the beach that day gifted us love and companionship that I have trouble believing anyone else has, and now we’re taking on a new challenge that will test our resolve and relationship while providing us with a too-good-to-be-true opportunity to ride off into the sunset of our lives.
When we asked the tough questions of each other that people raise amid career shifts, we agreed that it was time to prioritize a bit differently. The freedom to imagine new routes and routines can be welcomed and feared at once, but as we navigated those conversations, we found familiar ground. Joining forces to lead a summer camp was not so different, in that sense, from the decision to get married in a backyard tent with origami birds and only a few months of planning, or stopping and starting infertility treatments and an adoption process in the same few minutes sitting in a car on an August afternoon, or buying a house without talking about selling the one we already couldn’t afford. Run a summer camp together? Okay, sure. We can do that.
But like those examples of spontaneity, there was nothing truly astonishing about exploring camp in this way. The foundation of understanding, trust, and the willingness to push each other were just beneath the surface allowing us to feel spontaneous. In actuality, we had been working towards this — separately and together — since we met in 1994. Nine years of co-work at Pinemere while we started to raise our daughter at camp, learning that only one of us was ready to leave Pinemere in 2008 and being okay with that, sustaining love and sanity through almost three years of New York City commuting and lots of travel, and then running two camps 15 miles apart simultaneously for another nine years set us up for being able to pivot like this. There was also a massive amount of good luck, and very special people, that caused this all to materialize.
Running a camp together that has a history but room for growth, and being in charge but with the security of an exceptional family to guide and support us on our journey, gives us confidence in our decision to lean into the unprecedented weirdness and challenge of the present. COVID-19 drove so many camps to close (including those that Ann and I were helping to lead,) but the same pandemic helped to give way to this career needle for us to thread. There are risks and unknowns, just as there are enticements and opportunities. We are just the right mix of scared and joyful about what lies ahead. And off we go.
We’re beginning the next chapter in our lives, thankful for all that we’ve experienced so far, and looking ahead to the growth that will come. I can still picture being in my Jeep Wrangler in 1994, sitting on the Atlantic City Expressway in bumper-to-bumper traffic with angry commuters who were sad to be leaving the fun of the weekend behind them to return to the Real World. I didn’t know what would happen in the years to follow, but I must have had a sense that my life was suddenly better. The music was turned up, the time passed easily, and my thoughts of Ann consumed my head and heart on that day and every day since. Here’s to lots more moments like that…including those we will have in Beach Lake with our new family at Chestnut Lake Camp.