I have no luck with summer camps. Growing up, I attended two. The first was a “math camp” where the instructors tried (and failed) to make math fun by using it in game-like situations. If you want to make something completely un-fun for a 10-year-old, just add math to the equation. It took years to recover from the fear of abandonment I harbored from my mother handing me over to the math magicians, who held me captive for what should’ve been the best days of my summer.
The second was a volleyball camp I voluntarily attended when I was 16. I stayed in a dorm 8 hours from my hometown, but begged my parents to camp nearby, just in case I needed them. I did. At my request, they showed up to cheer me on during every end-of-day scrimmage, and after the last spike, I fought the urge to leave with them. See, with my parents, I knew what to expect. I knew they had my best interests at heart. I knew they weren’t going to assault me with arithmetic or chastise me from missing a block.
The Endless Summer
What did I do with all that ample time on my hands during the summers of my youth? I played with my sister. We ate frozen pizzas covered with dried up cubes of pepperoni in the backyard under a blanket we fashioned into a fort. We stood gigantic inner tubes on end and rode them like bucking broncos. Mom filled a bucket with water and declared it our “pool.” It wasn’t that Mom could afford not to work—she just couldn’t afford to pay for childcare or camp for two children. But Dad and Mom were forced to scrape by on minimum-wage jobs the summer the paper mill went on strike, and consequently it was the only summer I spend away from home. A friend of my parents offered to watch my sister and me. For two months she abused us emotionally and physically. When the strike was over, I ran into my mom’s arms and didn’t leave her grasp until I moved away for college. It would be years later before she understood why.
So when I asked my 6-year-old daughter if she wanted to go to camp this summer and she replied with a firm, “No,” I didn’t push it. Her friends tried to convince her of the fun they were having swimming, rope climbing and horseback riding, but my daughter would have nothing to do with it. And frankly, neither would I. I believe those kids are having a grand time making lifelong friends and learning new skills. I also believe that my child, like me, would be the kid looking longingly out the window for 6 hours, waiting for my car to pull up and whisk her back to the world that she feels most safe and comfortable in.
Am I projecting some of my own fears and insecurities? Probably. Am I okay with that? Absolutely. She’s 6.
The Summertime Equation Solved
Luckily, my husband and I have flexible supervisors who allow us to arrange our work schedules so we can pass our daughter between us like a baton during these summer months. And I can honestly say that I wouldn’t trade it for anything. We ride bikes. We play tennis. We upgraded from the bucket of my childhood and bought an inflatable pool. One day, Ava’s friend came over to swim. She took one look at the pool and said with marked disappointment, “I though you said you had a pool.” Confused, Ava replied, “We do.” (The same response I’d give my friends who questioned my swimming bucket.)
And every night my daughter, sun kissed, exhausted and safe in my arms, asks how much longer before summer is over because she never wants it to end. I couldn’t agree more.
If you’re lucky enough to have your school-age children breathing down your neck at 7:15 a.m. asking, “What’re we doing today?!” Don’t waste a moment wishing for the speedy return of school. Cherish these summer months together. I guarantee they will.