A version of the piece below was previously published in The Fresno Bee on July 7, 2018.
Sorry summer camps, but screw you. I’m opting out this year. Not out of hate, but out of love. Love for myself, love for my kids, love for not paying ridiculous arm-and-leg prices for one week of ‘fun’ for my kids and love for not having to be anywhere specific during a time that was (in the old days) meant for lazy living. (By the old days, I mean MY CHILDHOOD during the 1980’s.)
“Which camps are your kids doing this year?” friends ask me. “None,” I say. “We’re mostly meeting up with friends, spending time together and exploring our local area.” My response is usually followed by blank stares of shock and what looks like judgement. (Technically, my older daughter did one week of Girl Scout camp and both my girls are doing a 4-day dance camp involving their American Girl dolls… but that’s it for us with ‘camps’ this summer.)
I am officially fatigued and just plain mind-boggled with all the planning and searching and activity-creating and crafting and oh-you’ve-got-to-enroll-your-kids-in-this-class urgency that is shoved down our throats not only during the school year, but now during summer breaks. And don’t get me started about ‘academic summer school’ for 7 year olds. I’m not sure if this is exclusive to where I live here in Los Angeles or if parents across the country feel the same.
There’s too much of everything all the time. Stop it. (We have the power, I swear.)
Like most of my peers, here’s what I did on my childhood summer breaks: I watched TV. I did cartwheels with my sister. I spent all day in the pools of neighborhood friends and cousins. I made homemade snow cones with this cheap ice-shaving machine my mom bought us and she let us put as much syrup on them as we wanted.
I remember feeling free. I remember laughing. I remember happiness. There was no stress and no schedule. We woke up in the morning and did what we felt like that day. Throw in a family vacation to Santa Cruz, CA and a handful of those academic worksheets at the end of August (to review what we learned the previous school year) and that was summer. Summer was a break. For everyone (including my mom).
As an adult I now know that lazy-time wasn’t a loss — it helped me develop independence, learn coping skills (ie: figuring out something to do if I found myself feeling ‘bored’) and also spend precious time at home (with my parents… gasp!) which bonded us as a family without even realizing it.
Just because kids are booked in back-to-back activities, are constantly entertained by others and are ‘having fun’ doesn’t necessarily mean all is absolutely right in the world.
Every teacher and child development expert I’ve interviewed tells me the same tragic thing: Kids are becoming so brainwashed into ‘being on a scheduled program’ they have no idea how to self-regulate, how to self-start, how to entertain and/or think for themselves unless someone else is telling them how and when to play what. Shameful. Sad. Dare I say, PATHETIC. (Caps because I mean it.)
So why are so many of us trading the power to recharge during lazy summers for constant stimulation that, in the end, is making so many of our kids more anxious?
I’m also taking the reality of having “18 summers with my kids” very seriously to spend time with them (even though some days are hectic and just plain hard) instead of enrolling them into activities to keep them busy and out of the house. I want to get to know my kids and I want them to get to know me — I’m hoping the more time I spend goofing off with them at the ages they are now (7 and 6), the more likely we’ll continue to be close during their teen years and beyond.
Granted, I’m beyond thankful to be able to claim a real summer break. I’m not obligated to finding childcare on a daily basis as I don’t work full-time — and I realize how precious that gift is as a modern mom. Praise be. (One of my own summer activities has been binge-watching The Handmaid’s Tale — ha!) For the full-time working moms, this post obviously does not apply to you… although I am happy to fight like hell to get summer camp prices back down to a reasonable level in the name of common sense. No working mama’s paycheck should be completely consumed with paying the kinds of prices today’s summer camps demand. Ridiculous.
As for the moms who are on the stay-at-home spectrum, let’s challenge ourselves to do more of nothing, together as families. Whether this means staying in pajamas all day, spontaneous backyard sprinkler-running in bathing suits or eating ice cream sundaes for dinner one night for the heck of it (please don’t tell my husband), so be it. Resist the urge to book, book, book for the sake of ‘keeping busy.’ Even if the kids lay in the air-conditioned den and watch TV for 3 hours on a 105 degree day, all will be fine. It’s summer.
And doing nothing can be fun and productive in ways that add up in positive ways I fear we’ve all forgotten… I totally promise.