Summer camp is a lesson in logistics

For The Baltimore Sun
Figuring out summer camp-schedules was like trying to solve a Rubik's Cube in the dark. Drunk.

Gathering my daughter's things for summer camp one morning, I grabbed for her a warm and toasty sweatshirt.

"It's going to be 80 degrees today," my husband said. "Why are you giving her a jacket?"

At which point I had to paint for him a sad little picture of his wife as a child — 8-years-old to be exact — shivering in a dim room at summer camp, searching desperately for a warm corner away from the blast of the commercial air conditioner (set on "deep freeze," apparently), hating the lanyard making, the cold lunches, the disinterested counselors and the forced pool time — which always, always led to more shivering.

Child-me hated camp. But adult-me has changed her tune.

Being a working mother of three, summer camp is essential. When school stops in June, for some reason my employer doesn't stop needing me to come in. (Go figure.)

So in February, at the advice of friends who have been-there-done-that, I started looking for camps for our three little ones. I envisioned a little Google searching for camps that were close by and that offered age-appropriate activities, a quick swipe of the credit card, a few forms to fill out and ta-da!! Summer figured out!

HAAAA!

Little did I know that figuring out summer was like trying to solve a Rubik's Cube — one for each kid — in the dark. Drunk.

To wit:

IT SEEMS NO CAMP COVERS THE ENTIRE SUMMER! School ends one week; camp begins two weeks later. Camp ends on one day; school starts again 10 days later. Why? Why?! WHY?!If NASA could figure out 10 years ago the EXACT month and year that New Horizons would cross paths with Pluto, why can't some super-smart people figure out a way to have school end one day and camp start the very next day?

CAMP IS FREAKIN' EXPENSIVE! I could re-tile my bathroom with solid gold bars for less than it costs for my three children to go to summer camp. I need to get a second job to pay for all this camp, except then I would need more camp to cover the extra days I'm working to pay for camp.

CAMPS FOR SMALL KIDS END IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAY! Especially considering my memories of freezing for nine hours a day in camp, I totally get that going to camp from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. is a long day for little ones. But again I need to point out: I still have to work all day long. I don't have summer hours, folks! Who does?

Eight weeks into the summer and I'm still grumbling about the gymnastics I had to do to cover all three kids for the entire summer. It took four different camps and a graduate-level understanding of Excel to work it all out. And actually there's a week left in August that we don't have covered for our daughter and six days that I have to take vacation to stay home with our boys. (For a refresher course on "vacation" with kids, please see my June column.)

Do I sound bitter? That's because I am!

Once, I railed on Facebook about how annoying it was to try to figure out the camp situation for three small children. "Let's hear it for year-round school!" I said.

The truth is, as an adult, I appreciate camp more, mostly because my own children seem to love it. They enjoy the pool (and, freakishly, they seem impervious to the cold). I see how they're getting something different (and just as important) out of camp than they get from the academic year.

But I still don't understand why school can't seamlessly morph into something camp-like between June and August, or why it has to be so expensive.

We're blessed to be able to have options, and the means to figure it all out. But not everyone is. And if our circumstances were to change, we'd be in big trouble.

As this election season heats up, I'd like to say publicly: Any candidate who proposes a workable solution to this problem (and maybe throws in mandatory three-day weekends, too), you can consider me firmly in that person's camp.

Tanika Davis is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who now works as director at a communications firm. She and her husband have twin 5-year-old sons, a 3-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap. She can be reached at tanika@thehatch ergroup.com. Her column appears monthly.

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