School's out, summer's here. Parents everywhere are cheering. Or are they?
Confession: 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 order 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 and underwear regularly go missing.
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 10 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 4 p.m. 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, doing 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 10 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.