Yesterday, my daughter came to me and said, “All I did all day long yesterday was play babies. ALL DAY.” I couldn’t tell if this was a complaint or not, but I had to admit that I felt guilty that my children were not in camp.
Up until last year, I had always sent my kids to some type of day camp. Partly I did this so that I could get my own work done during the summer (because, unlike what non-academics believe, professors do work during the summer months). I also thought that they needed the stimulation and activity of camp. In fact, when other mothers would tell me that their kids were not signed up for camp, I admit that I felt sorry for them (both the kids and the mothers) and figured that it was probably just a matter of cost.
Now that I have joined the ranks of campless moms, I can tell that some people feel sorry for me. After the chaos of the school year, I just wasn’t interested in camp. I didn’t want to have to do the typical send-off routine of finding bathing suits, sunblock, bug spray, water bottles that don’t leak (an almost-impossible task), and the towels. I was tired of convincing my daughters that the camp bathrooms were clean enough to use, and that even though I always make them change out of wet bathing suits at home, that rule wasn’t applicable during camp. I also wanted to take a break from the drama of the camp friends and the inclusion/non-inclusion stories. I just wanted to relax with them and have fun. We have a pool in our new home, and isn’t that half the fun of camp?
I then began to feel guilty that my children were not getting enough stimulation. Some days, we haven’t left the house before 2pm. I decided we could have a theme each week so that the kids could feel that they were getting a camp-like experience. The first would be Greek week, when we could make Greek food, discuss Greek mythology, do early science experiments from Greek philosophers, and make cool Medea characters out of toilet paper roll tubes. All I have done so far is remember not to throw away one toilet paper tube.
I have now begun to accept slowly that I was falling into the trap of the over-stimulated child and the hyper-parent. Last year, an article from The Atlantic explored the value of play during the summer. I don’t need to entertain my kids all day. The girls played with their dolls for most of yesterday and were happy. I don’t have to reproduce an activity from Pinterest for them to have a fulfilling day. It’s okay if we spend an afternoon reading (myself included). Maybe they won’t have engaged in as many sports, and they won’t know what ga-ga is, but they can have the simple joy of learning how to fill their time and knowing what it feels like to be bored (an increasingly fleeting experience among screen-saturated youth). Yesterday, they discovered a turtle in their front yard.
I still think camp is a great thing for many kids, and for the many parents who don’t have the luxury of being home during the summer. My kids may go back in the future, but in the meantime, we are enjoying a more relaxing summer experience. While we may not have our own Greek-themed week, maybe we can at least all go out for some Baklava.