The Agony and Ecstasy of Summer Camp

School’s out, summer’s here. Parents everywhere are cheering. Or are they?

I hate summer camp

I hate that we have to be out of the house a whole hour earlier than during the school year, in time to catch the bus to camp. Our already-challenging mornings become even more compressed and panicky because, no matter how well prepared we are, kids just want to play – not pack their lunches, find their towel, apply sunscreen, brush teeth, etc etc. It’s the fear of missing the bus and having to consequently drive 40 minutes in the opposite direction from my workplace that fuels these mornings.

I hate that, no matter how well I’ve organized the camp clothing procurement process with the goal of having a sufficient supply chain of shorts, T-shirts, socks, swimsuits and towels, I still end up having to do laundry every single night. Because camp clothes aren’t just a little dirty – they are sweaty, sandy, muddy, dank, stained with arts and crafts and bug spray. They require boiling. I hate that stuff always gets lost, no matter how well labelled. Towels, water bottles, sun screen, swimsuits, lunch boxes, goggles, underwear.

I hate camp songs. Sure, they are cute at first. But when your kids sing them over and over, morning and evening and all weekend – especially those “repeat after me” songs – it’s enough to drive me loony.

I dislike “dress up” or theme days. Nine times out of ten we just don’t have the right costume, color or accessory just hanging around the house. Or, most likely, we forget. Then as we arrive at the bus stop and see other kids in whichever theme of the week attire it is, my kids are inevitably disappointed. (Side note: if they cared enough about it, they’d make an effort to remember. Right?)

I dislike family night. Not because I don’t want to experience my kids’ camp, meet their counsellors and friends, hang out and have fun – but because of the damn mosquitoes that see me and think “mmm, dinner.”

I hate the cost of 8-9 weeks of summer camp because, as a working parent, what else are you going to do? I also hate that I have to start reserving my kids’ spot at summer camp in January, for fear that it’ll book up really quickly and then we’ll be royally screwed.

I hate that many of the fun, smaller or specialist camps are not only crazy expensive but they also finish at 3 or 4pm? What’s a working parent to do?

But …. I love summer camp.

I love that my kids spend their days outside at camp running, playing, swimming, fishing, boating, archery, learning outdoor skills and much much more. It’s how kids were meant to spend their summers: carefree, making new friends, trying new challenges. Happy as pigs in …. well, you know. I love how my kids’ camp – the YMCA – provides sufficient structure for a camp of 800 kids but at the same time encourages discovery, expression and free-play.

I love how my kids’ bodies become firm and lithe during summer camp, their little arms and chests becoming toned and muscular thanks to twice daily swimming. I love how, every summer, their swimming skills get stronger. I love their stories of new friends and adventures. I love the relationships they build with their counsellors. I love their farmers’ tans, the healthy glow that bursts from their happy faces. I love how they grow every summer, not just in height but in strength (inner and outer.)

I love that they come home tired, filthy, and hungry. They eat their body weight in food for dinner and then sleep soundly for ten hours. I love that they are spending less time in front of screens. I feel like our money has been well-spent and my kids are making memories every year, building layer upon layer of character and confidence.

So yes, mention summer camp and I’ll both smile and grimace.  And yes, soon enough, the time will come that they go to sleep away camps for several weeks at a time. Then, I’m sure, I’ll be singing a different tune.

Losing My Marbles?

I am not someone who loses things or leaves things behind. Over the years, I’ve known plenty of people who lose their car keys and such on a regular basis. At university, I lived with a girl who every day was in a panic about not being able to find something or other.

However, I am turning into one of these people, if the last two weeks are anything to go by. Let’s examine the evidence:

  • Wed of last week: Drove to a meeting in town. Returned to parking garage to the realization that I had left my wallet at home.
  • Fri of last week: Left my entire bag overnight at Dream Dinners.
  • Yesterday morning: Left for gym in the morning without my water bottle.
  • Yesterday afternoon: Left work without my laptop.
  • Yesterday evening: Left a restaurant without my credit card or signing for the check.

I worry about my sanity when these things happen as it’s so out of character for me. I’m well aware however that it’s a symptom of moving too fast and having too much in my head. And not enough sleep.

According to this new article “I Refuse to Be Busy” in the New York Times’ Motherlode blog, being busy is a choice. I’m not completely sure that’s true or achievable, especially when you are a working parent. But one way or another, I need to tackle my busy work, busy home, busy head thing or else I will never find my marbles. Maybe I should start by trying to slow down and breathe. Breathing is good, right?

 

The Shocking Cost of Being a Working Parent

(This post first appeared on the Framingham Patch.)

There’s a lot about parenthood that I was not at all prepared for (see my earlier post 25 Unexpected Realities of Parenthood.) One of these things was just how crazy expensive it is caring for these little people.

I’m not talking diapers, food (gosh, I have to feed them over and over and over) and clothes (they just keep on growing) but the shocking cost of daycare, after school care and camps.

I’m fully aware that I could have chosen to be a stay-at-home mom. There are days when staying home with my kids sounds like nirvana. But I am a working mom, a career woman; its part of who I am. I found my niche, I’m good at what I do and I’m passionate about it. And, lucky for me and my family, it pays well too.

But like many other working parents, I’m forever assessing whether the delta between what my husband and I bring home, and what’s left in our bank accounts after paying for preschool, full day kindergarten, afterschool program, early release cover and camps, is really worth it.

This summer is the first that we’ve put both kids into camp (previously my daughter’s preschool continued through the summer months.) First off, selecting from the variety of programs offered was incredibly overwhelming. But then, oh my, the costs! And to think, we have to fill nine weeks of school vacation. Plus extended day. Plus busing. The whole process gives me severe heartburn. Surely all that diligent financial planning before and ever since the kids came out of the womb would have readied us for this? But no.

I think back to the summers of my own childhood and wonder about the fiscal choices my parents made. My mother did not work so we kids were home. I remember going away to the occasional two-week camp – probably a welcome very break for my Mom. Maybe she was going stir crazy the whole time we were home but there was never the need to pack us off for the full nine weeks so that she could pursue a career.

There are days that I wonder whether working parents are being ripped off. Is someone making a profit out of working parents like me who pay other people or institutions to take care of our kids so we can put in an eight-hour day at the office? Is this some kind of penalty we must accept for the fact that we have chosen the professional route? Academically, I understand why child care costs so much. But surely there has to be a more cost-effective way to do this?

For me, working is a choice I make. There are many for whom it is a necessity. I cannot imagine the financial strain they must face finding the balance between making enough money to pay the bills, put food on the table, clothe and equip their families and finding affordable childcare so they can do their jobs.

Maybe it’s our culture that needs fixing?

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