I find it interesting when economics is applied to offbeat topics.This is done in the best seller “Freakonomics,” which looks at a variety of social issues using the tools of economics. My own research applies the discipline of economics to studying altruism and nonprofit organizations, topics that are probably not the first things that come to mind when one thinks of economics. I also recall the professor who taught me macroeconomics many years ago, whose own research was on “envy”. I found myself thinking of him recently as I ran into one of my daughter’s former teachers as we stopped by the library on the way home from her summer camp. With wet hair and a bathing suit under her shorts, the teacher said that she looked like she was having fun. I could only add “I want her life.”
And there is good reason to want it, as she is having a fun time this summer. Her camp offers swimming lessons, daily trips to local parks and other fun places, and unstructured time in the pool, all with some of her closest friends from school. After only a few days, I can already see that she is perfecting her swimming skills, although she has chosen not to join the local swim team. She and my husband seem to agree that it is good to be able to enjoy swimming just for fun, even if she would probably do well on the team. She enjoys the daily trips, and still talks about a trip they took last year to a local pizza restaurant, where the students all made their own pizzas. But it is the thought of unstructured time spent at the pool that makes me most jealous. And that is why I often pick her up from camp only to turn around and return to the pool, so I can join in on the fun for a few hours.
I love the public pool, and we spend every free minute there in the summer. It reminds me, in some ways, of “Cheers,” where everybody knows your name. It is usually the case that we are there only a few minutes before my daughter finds a friend to run off and play with. I usually spend the time chatting with other moms from the neighborhood or some aspect of my daughter’s life. Ah, to have the freedom to enjoy the life she is enjoying right now!
The truth is, though, that I don’t really want her life. While she has a great life and is having a fun summer, I enjoy having the freedom of an adult, with a car and an income, even if they come with responsibilities. A more correct statement is that I want her life with the freedom of an adult. Of course, that is not to be found, especially now that I have responsibilities as a parent. However, I once did experience such a combination, not all that long ago. It was during graduate school, when I had the freedom (and car) of an adult, but alas, not all that much income.
It was the summer before I went on the job market, and I had a fellowship to write my dissertation full-time. I spent each day writing and doing research, taking breaks on weekends. A group of fellow graduate students formed, and we organized outings on the weekends. We had dinner parties, went dancing, and took trips to the beach. We jokingly called it “summer camp.”
Of course, it was fun, but there were important things that were missing. I remember once seeing an advertisement on a billboard showing a picture of a man holding a baby. I don’t remember what it was trying to sell, but I do remember pointing to one of my friends and saying “I want a family like that.” It is interesting that a picture sits in my office of my husband holding my daughter in a similar way, taken only weeks after she came home. My picture has a view of the Cleveland skyline behind it, and, although my memory of the billboard is vague, I am sure that the people in my picture are just as cute.
As well as learning how to swim, my daughter is also learning some basic economics in her time at camp. She recently discovered that she did not need to spend her money at the pool concession stand, as they overcharge. Maybe she has a future as an economist, after all.
Wishing everyone a summer out of their fondest childhood memories!