Summer Camp Preparation: A Business Woman’s Guide

Twenty-one days. That’s how much time is left until my family’s weekday morning schedule has to adjust backwards by an hour.

Excuse me while I hyperventilate.

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Yup, summer camp is almost here. And we all know how I feel about summer camp: it’s a love/hate thing. But the few weeks leading up to the transition from school to camp make my stomach churn with anxiety. How the heck are we going to get out of the door at 8am every morning, when doing it at 9am every day during the school year is so freaking challenging? The drama, the yelling, the last minute “oh I need a penguin for today’s xyz project?” or “I can’t find my shoes” or “mama I have no underpants” calamities.

And yet, every year, we seem to manage. I’m driven largely by a deep-rooted fear of missing the camp bus which would mean driving the kids 30 mins to a place that is entirely the opposite direction from my office. Yes, fear. It’s a big motivator.

So, to mitigate against drama, chaos, panic and so on, preparation is key and for this, I draw upon a few fundamentals from the world of business:

Procurement: Be sure to stock up on sufficient kids clothes (so you don’t have to do laundry more than once a week) and other essentials which will get lost, despite all and any attempts to label them or nail them to your kids backpack or body. These include: socks, shoes, T-shirts, underpants, swimsuits, towel, water bottles, hats, sun lotion, bug spray, goggles, lunch boxes (and innards), and so on. Not to mention lunch and snack stuff.

Inventory: No matter how much you have procured ahead of time, odds are it will not be enough and at some point during the summer weeks, you’ll run out of something mission-critical. Or they’ll lose their back pack. Or wreck their shoes. Be prepared to maintain and strategically top-up inventory.

Logistics management: I cannot stress how important it is to keep things moving to avoid a great big pile-up of drama-inducing chaos. Yes, this means doing laundry semi-regularly and actually moving things from the washer to the drier and back into closets. It means making sure that shoes get taken off at the end of the day and actually put somewhere where they will be easily found the next morning. No matter how much you have drilled your kids in doing their own laundry or shoe-putting-where-they-need-to-go, during the summer time, you will probably need to take back these duties or at the very least micro-manage them. It also means fanatically accounting for the whereabouts of everything. Which usually goes a little something like this:

Me: “Didn’t you take a blue water bottle today?”
Kid: “Yes I did.”
Me: “So why did you bring home a green water [or no] bottle. “
Kid: “I lost/traded/forgot mine.”

Business processes: New household processes must be executed. For me, this involves rinsing out the kids’ swimsuits each night because if they get actually washed in the laundry too often, they start sagging at the bottom. (Note: this is because I buy cheap swim suits. See point 1.) And nobody likes saggy swim suit bottoms. It also means ensuring that bedtimes are observed because late nights mean late mornings which means panic, drama, yelling and me being late to work. Working backwards, if prompt bedtimes are to be observed, this means that dinner needs to be ready swiftly upon getting home at the end of each day. Which means we need to know what we are making for dinner each evening. Which requires aforethought and, you know, grocery shopping. (See procurement/inventory.)

Workforce management, scheduling and integration: In an ideal world, both parents are fully invested in the New World Order that summer camp season mandates. Similarly, adaptations usually need to be made to who’s doing drop offs and pick ups. It may take a while for all parties to adapt to the new routine so be sure to integrate it into the family schedule. If you have one. (Note to self: work on family schedule.)

Closed-loop feedback: Communication is absolutely essential. With all parties. Spouses/partners. Kids. Bus drivers. Camp counselors. Other parents. It also means reading every crumpled, dusty and damp piece of paper (why are they always damp?) that get stuffed into backpacks informing you about something important happening, like “It’s Green Day tomorrow!” or “Dress Like a Parrot Day.” (Confession: I usually ignore these because the procurement/inventory/supply chain is simply not flexible enough to allow for unexpected wardrobe changes.)

Twenty-one days. That’s how many days are left.

Pass the brown paper bag.

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5 Things I’d Never Encountered Till I Moved to Massachusetts

It’s been almost 14 years since I moved to America and all 14 of those years have been spent living in, and loving, Massachusetts. Before I moved here, my only point of reference for all-things-Boston was watching episodes of Ally McBeal. Little did I know that Boston does not really have magical street lamps and gently powdery snow falling on twinkly streets, everywhere. Damn you Ally McBeal. However, there’s plenty about life in Massachusetts which has been eye-opening to me in many ways.

1. Let’s take the weather:

I arrived here in February and was promptly told about an impending Nor’Easter threatening to dump a foot of snow. On the morning of this supposed event, the sky was white and cloudy, not a flake in sight. “So where’s this snowmageddon-like storm that everyone’s predicting,” I wondered. “Seriously, a foot of snow – not possible, surely?”

Boom. I was wrong. The heavens opened and promptly dumped sizeable proportions of white stuff in what felt like a few short minutes. OK maybe it took an hour or two. But never had this Londoner ever seen so much snow fall.

And here’s the thing.

It’s not a one-time event. The sky can dump anywhere from 8″ to a foot multiple times! Snow upon snow upon snow until there are humongous industrial-sized mountains of shoveled snow amassed in parking lots and other unsuspecting places. And there they stay, growing icier and generally more mucky, every day. Until, like, July.

Before moving here, I’d never encountered snow blowers, snow ploughs and shovels. (Not that I use them, I am a grateful observer.) And, thundersnow?!

Did I mention the cold? As in the bone-chilling, nostril-hair-freezing, finger-removal-threatening cold that is otherwise known here as February. Sub-freezing temperatures like I didn’t think was possible, and this after three years of jaunts in the Alps! The communal relief when the high for the day is actually above-freezing is palpable. The river here actually freezes solid. I’d never seen such a thing before.

Then there’s the humidity otherwise known as July and August. The air is so wet and heavy that it fairly slaps your face as you step outdoors, sucking out any oxygen you may have selfishly thought you needed to actually breathe. Hair becomes wild, curly, affro-esque. Makeup melts. Mosquitoes chase with vampire, blood-sucking intentions. It’s generally disgusting. Which is why air-conditioners are essentially the best invention ever in the entire universe (please take note, Europe.)

However, to balance out the horrors of winter and summer in Massachusetts, there is spring and fall – both of which are so divine, they can turn an atheist into a believer. Unbelievably beautiful blossoms. Freshly cut verdant lawns. The air sweet and light, outdoors welcoming. Butterflies, dragon flies, hummingbirds.

And fall. There are not enough adjectives to describe the colors and smells of fall in Massachusetts. Seriously. It’s staggeringly beautiful, converting all that is wrong and dark, to right and rich. Check out some fall photos here.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the sunrises and sunsets of Massachusetts, equally breathtaking with ripples of flaming colors that take your breath away.

2. But let’s get to the traffic:

First things first: two words. Big Dig. I often tell people the only reason I have stayed is to see how this grandiose experiment actually turned out. Actually, it’s pretty impressive.

However, it took several months of living and driving here until, one day, it dawned on me with a resounding D’UH that routes 128 and 95 can be one and the same. It’s some kind of local inside joke, inflicted on anyone from out of town who has the gall to drive in Massachusetts.

And then there’s the whole overtaking on the inside thing. Now, I grew up driving in England where everyone is generally civilized and polite on the roads (OK, that may be a stretch.) And driving on the highways in France, I was always impressed with the methodical way that you overtook on the left and then moved back into the slower lane until you needed to overtake again.

Not so in Massachusetts where it’s fair game and acceptable to overtake any which way. And then stay in whichever lane you end up in. Admittedly, I rather like it – but always have to remind myself when returning to England that overtaking on the inside is just not cricket.

Note: if you are new to Massachusetts, you need to understand the term ‘masshole,’ defined by the Urban Dictionary as:

1. For residents of Massachusetts, it is an achieved title for drving faster, being wreckless, cutting other drivers off often, and having no patience for other drivers on the road. 

2. For non-residents of Massachusetts, it is a term of dislike for the people of Massachusetts that drive like an asshole.

3. Funny talk

I’ve blogged about a fair amount about the differences between American English and British English, especially about silly American words. But different words aside, there are accents and very local pronunciations that were new to me.

The Boston accent is well-known. Paark your caar in Haarvaard Yaard and all that. But there are several towns whose names are pronounced much differently from their phonetic spelling. Peabody. Woburn. Worcester. Quincy, to name a few.

In Massachusetts, wicked is a complementary adjective. All set means good-to-go, one of my favorite adopted local phrases. If you are visiting here for the first time and you want to fit in, check out UniversalHub’s Wicked Good Guide to Boston English – and you’ll be wickedly all-set.

4. Pride

The passion that Massachusetts natives display for their region, town, community and sports teams is crazy and wonderful and contagious. Since I’ve lived here, the Red Sox have won the World Series three times and each time, it’s greeted with glee, pride, tears and cheers. To an outsider, it’s almost ridiculous but when you live with it and among it, it’s a beautiful thing.

But the peak of my admiration came in April of this year when this city rallied following the bombings at the Boston Marathon and the bewildering, frightening few days that followed as we were locked down and under threat. Boston Strong is real and poignant and amazing.

5. Last but not least ….

Pumpkin. My love for pumpkin is well-known and documented. But please, let’s be clear. I like to eat my pumpkin not drink it. Pumpkin, to me, has no place in my beer or my coffee. Blech.

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(Confession: I spelled Massachusetts wrong every time I typed it in the post. Thank heavens for spell check!)

Summer Swan Song & Back to School Angst

Well, that went fast! Here we are, just three days of summer camp left and back to school in a week’s time. It’s a time to pause and marvel at summer’s imprint on my kids – before I, true to form, start stressing about the imminent change to our schedules, logistics and my inevitable working Mom guilt.

Summer has a habit of showering my kids with one heck of a growth spurt: both mentally and physically. Mentally, they become more self-assured, strutting off to camp every day, confident in their character, willing to learn, practice and hone new skills, navigate complex social situations, make new friends – both peers and counselors.

Summer mostly leaves her mark on their bodies. Long days of constant motion and outdoor action convert their little bodies into long, lean, muscular, bronzed creatures. They grew at least two feet taller each summer – I’m not kidding. The sun bleaches the soft down on their foreheads and rains golden streaks into their hair. Their bums are shocking white in contrast with the rest of the lanky, ripped bodies! Summer renders them ever more beautiful.

Best of all, they return home from camp each night filthy, hungry and tired. They eat their body weight in dinner, chug several pints of milk, shower off the day’s dust, grime, sun screen and bug spray, and fall, clean and exhausted, into their beds and into deep, sweet dreams.

This evening, we talked about what they’d miss most about camp. Their friends and swimming every day were their answers. Then we talked about what they were looking forward about going back to school. Their friends and learning new things, they responded.

It amazes me how seamlessly and confidently they slide from one season to the next, without angst, without regret, with anticipation.

And so we go back to school. However, for me as a working Mom, the transition isn’t quite as carefree as the kids.

Back to school, for me, brings a change of schedule with school starting an hour later, meaning I get to the office later, compressing my already busy work day. It brings regret that I don’t have the time in my schedule to walk my kids to school. It foists guilt that I can’t be as present in the classroom as maybe I could or should be. lt slams me with frustration that I’m not able to pick them up before 6pm every day, meaning our evenings together are all-too-short.

Surely, they deserve more of me?

This is a state-of-mind and heart that I face at this time of year every year. I struggle with it. And then accept it, for my choice to work is my choice. And, luckily for me, my kids weather this time of year  better than I do – so I guess I must be doing something right.

How Do Parents Really Feel About Back to School?

Me? I’m thrilled that my kids start school tomorrow and the day after.

I mean the summer was fantastic for my kids. Even though they had to be out of the house an hour earlier (than our usual school-time mornings) to get the bus to camp, their days were filled with fun and exploration. Each afternoon, they came home exhausted, filthy and happy. They ate their body weight in food for dinner each night, guzzled their milk and slept like babies. I absolutely believe they both grew a foot in height and gained a virtual pint of confidence and joie de vivre. Their bodies are toned, they have gorgeous tan lines and their hair is bleached. I look at them and see perfection, as only a mother does.

But I am beyond ready for a return to the regular routine of the school week. Our whole family needs the structure that the school week provides. My son in particular, given the latitude of the summer months and his tendency to take a mile if given an inch, really needs the grounding infrastructure – dare I say restraint? – of school: for him, the order and discipline of school helps to amplify and reinforce the behaviors we expect from him at home. For my daughter, starting kindergarten cannot come soon enough. She is extremely ready for this next stage in her journey. She is hungry to learn, eager to become “a big girl.” I am so incredibly excited for her.

And I wondered how other parents feel about this time of the year. Relieved and eager like me, I presumed? After all, I’ve seen tweets aplenty from other Moms expressing their bittersweet farewells to summer and their welcome embrace of the return to school.

So I decided to conduct some very informal, unscientific research among my networks and was actually surprised by the variety of responses. I asked parents to express from 1-10 how they feel about back to school, with 10 being the superlative (where I’m at.) Here’s some of what I heard:

0 – downright miserable:

I want them home with us and not have to get them up (which is torture for all of us) and then homework and routine and then we cannot go on trips and then we have to deal with the schools and then bus and I could go on, and the cold weather …

5 … reluctantly returning to reality:

The summer went by too fast! I want to play some more! I also don’t want to get back to the routine of rushing in the mornings, homework, sports and reality…..

8 … super excited:

I am super excited because my children are looking forward to school. It also gives one of the best people in my life some one on one time with my littlest one and hopefully more time for her to get everything that she wants to do, done ….

15 … (remember the scale was 1-10!):

The time has come. We need some structure back into our lives.

So, Moms and Dads, how do you feel? Will you be whooping and cheering as the school bus drives off or grumbling through the next few days?

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