Friday, 17 July 2009

Carry on not camping

When I signed up to the boys' new kindergarten I was asked whether I would be interested in sending them to 'summer camp'. I automatically said no. After all, we've only just arrived here and seeing as I'm not yet working it seemed a bit mean (not to mention expensive) to ship them off to some 'camp'. I also, I admit, had images of kids in dormitories, being forced to swim in lakes and chop up wood - gleaned from 70s Disney films and stories told by friends who worked in such places on gap years.

What I didn't realise is the pivotal role that summer camp plays in suburban American life, or that it doesn't involve being sent away. Essentially, it is just a form of summer childcare for when the nurseries and schools are closed.

Take the other day. The Littleboys and I are at the local beach when a veritable army of children, of all ages, colours and ethnicities, marches past. They are all in groups, with each group dressed in matching t-shirts sporting the name of their summer camp. Each group is frogmarched, front and back, by adults with 'STAFF' emblazoned across their own matching shirts. About 50 different camps (all with big yellow schoolbuses - yay for Littleboy 2) have converged on the beach for a free concert. They're having a fantastic time, singing, dancing, mucking around - and more importantly, not being looked after by their parents.

Now, I know for a fact these parents are not all working - this town is awash with stay at home Moms. But in America, it seems every kid goes to summer camp. (The Doctor recalls a Peanuts cartoon where Charlie Brown & Co come out of school, cheering that school's out for the summer. Then Lucy tells them yes, but the bus for Camp is waiting, and their faces immediately fall.)

Every playground we go to, every time we visit the pool, the camps are there. There are religious ones, Takekwondo ones, tennis ones, ones affliliated to nurseries and ones affliliated to schools. The children move in packs and are curious and suspicious of the little kids with funny British accents who are playing on their own nearby. And slowly the realisation is dawning on me that the Littleboys could be the only children in America not in some form of summer camp.

So am I a total fool, I wonder, opting to spend the summer chasing after my children with a sunscreen bottle, sweeping sand off the kitchen floor and dragging tired, whingy toddlers around the supermarket? Spending my days trying in vain to read the New York Times on the beach (not a good idea when it's windy and you have two small kids to supervise), when I could be indulging in some pleasant activity BY MYSELF such as exercising, going for a proper swim, reading a good book, or trying on clothes in the mall? All of which, at this present time, are distant fantasies.

Who knows? Littleboy 1 comes and plonks himself on my lap, damp and sandy, and gives me a big salty kiss. Littleboy 2, meanwhile, is gently singing 'row, row, row the boat' while filling his bucket with sand. I know that by 6pm this evening they'll be driving me crazy, but I am also aware that this time with my children is precious.

And besides, from the envious way Littleboy 1 eyes the campers, once they start going to camp I'll probably never see them again....


Mumof4 said...

Mine are already booked in for a week of summer school and thank God for it. I remember when we were in Florida they even had summer camps at Seaworld and Disneyworld - how amazing would that be for a small boy. Unfortunately our summer school is more likely to be of the glue and glitter type of entertainment than behind the scenes with the killer whales and dolphins.

Penelope said...

I know it’s a little bit different but I am returning to work on Monday after 9 months maternity leave. I was traumatised at the thought of leaving my son at nursery as he has never been left in anyone’s care other that my partner and I. Added this I didn’t want to be away from him as he is my little baby and whilst he is a challenge and a half I adore the ground he sits on 
On Wednesday he went for his first taster session and I cried and cried. Was so difficult. Today he went for his second session. Neither of us cried and when I went to collect him, the nursery teacher said “Are you going to Mummy for a cuddle?” Joshua looked at me smiled then turned back to the teacher and carried on playing with her necklace giggling as if they had some private joke. Hmmph, seems I was worrying for nothing. Cheeky little monkey.

I got to watch him on the webcam for a few minutes before I collected him. He was happily playing away. He will have far more structured play at the nursery with the other children than I could offer him and whilst I will miss him terribly, he’s going to have so much more fun with the kids, than with me trying to shower with him kisses 24 hours a day (Get off Mummy)
Littleboy 1 and 2 would love the camp I am sure.

PS: I have also lived in Clapham and East Dulwich. It’s a small world !

Iota said...

I had exactly that same mental image of "camp". I couldn't quite understand what the school "chess camp" was going to be. It was a one-off thing, 3 mornings, 3 hours each morning. This seemed to me to be stretching the use of the word "camp".

But I've now come to find it a really useful word. What else could you say, that covers "an organised activity, any thing, any place, any where, for children"? Summer course? Summer club? Summer activity? No. Camp is a really useful word (and a really useful concept too).

Tara@Sticky Fingers said...

My two are going to holiday club for 4 of the 6 weeks.
There is absolutely no doubt in their minds that they want to go. I've said I'm not sending them there for a couple of days so we can have 'mummy days' together and they're all "as long as it's not the days when the bouncy castle/face painting/den building is on.
I'll just go sit in a corner on my own then shall I?

Almost American said...

I would probably go insane if the kids were at home for the entire 9 weeks of summer vacation! I was NOT cut out to be a SAHM!!! DD is at camp from 8 till noon for 5 weeks, which is nice cos I still get the afternoons with her. DS has just finished 2 weeks of 8:15-4:00 Chinese language and culture camp and wants to know why he can't go for the next two weeks. I know they love it when I try to pick them up early and they tell me to go away!

Lorna Harris said...

So glad I've found another English mum blogging in the US!

I did the same thing last summer, avoided the summer camps. This year we've been doing baseball, BMX, golf, the boys keep flicking through the brochure and asking to go. I do like the time off it gives me. The boys love them.

Expat mum said...

Many years ago, when my big kids were about 6 and 4, I decided to try to be a "good mother" and not put them in camp, but play with them myself (yes!) and take them to exciting places. Worst decision of my life as all their friends were in camp and they had no one to play with.
I haven't planned this summer very well because of 13 year old's baseball commitments. I have all three kids under my feet next week. Pray for me!

Mumof4 said...

I have added a meme tag for you on my blog as clearly I think you have nothing better to do!

A Confused Take That Fan said...

Gosh, it's all so different isn't it?
If you could find one for a few days, just to give you a bit of a chance to miss them, wouldn't that be nice? But I can understand your reluctance - new country, would they like being left? Are they secure enough yet? I'm sure you will make the right decision.xx

nappy valley girl said...

Mum of 4 - summer camp with Dolphins? I'd go that myself. And thanks for the tag

Penelope - the Littleboys loved their nursery in London. Sometimes when I went to pick them up, they didn't want to go home. There is no need to feel guilty!

Iota - yes, I am beginning to see just how useful....

Tara - I, too, have a feeling the boys would enjoy camp much more than being with me. I probably should have done it, but didnt want to commit to something so soon after we arrived.

Almost American - Chinese language and culture camp sounds pretty impressive - I hope you are learning it too to keep up!

Lorna - hi - will jump over and have a look at your blog shortly - my boys are a bit young for BMX and golf but I know what you mean.

Expat Mum - I will be thinking of you!

CTTF - unfortunately they seem to be for several weeks or not at all....but I have found a babysitting service so at least we can go out for an evening without them.