I’ve done a lot of work to try and minimize mommy guilt, but for me, summer is the season where it rears its ugly head the most. Why? Because so many of my kids’ friends have lazy, unstructured summers like those discussed in this Scary Mommy article (which is really funny and great).
My kids, on the other hand, are booked into a series of summer camps and activities that require a spreadsheet to keep organized. (I’m not kidding. I used Heather’s spreadsheet to do it. And I started booking this stuff in January.) It really hits my guilt meter when I think about my kids being scheduled from early June until mid-August, especially when I hear about their buddies doing maybe three weeks of the local art camp, two days per week.
But here’s the reality: camp is a necessity for us. My job doesn’t stop just because school lets out, nor would I want it to. And my kids ARE having an awesome summer, even if it looks different than the one depicted in that article. Here’s what I mean, and why a 1970’s summer isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution.
- My kids actually like structure.
In the past we’ve tried the “unstructured” thing for weeks here and there with the help of babysitters and grandparents, and every single time we’ve tried it, it’s been a spectacular backfire. By the afternoon of day 1, the kids are clamoring for TV. By the morning of day 2, they need a playdate because they miss their friends so much. By the evening of day 3, they’re throwing shoes at each other and the house looks like some sort of tornado ripped through it. Suggestions of playing outside or using their art supplies are met with un-subtle eye rolling and deep, mournful sighs.
What can I say? My kids come from two Type A parents. They like having activities on the books. They’re really, truly happier that way.
- These days there are some truly awesome camps.
My son’s summer includes traditional camp activities like archery, swimming, lanyard making, and color wars. It also includes non-traditional activities like zip lining, ropes courses, Lego engineering, and robotics. Robotics! My niece is attending a week of veterinary camp, for goodness sakes. The Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art hosts a camp! The Dodgers host a baseball camp! Your kids can do a week of camp at the Los Angeles Zoo!
And I am just scratching the surface. There are so many cool opportunities to try new, different, and even weird stuff during summer camp.
- My kids still get lots of downtime to just play.
A busy day at camp isn’t the same as a busy day at school. Plus let’s not overlook the fact that summer camp generally doesn’t involve homework. The afternoons, evenings and weekends are still gloriously full of the kind of free play I enjoyed as a child. And that’s the right amount of unstructured play for my kids.
Last week my two spent an entire afternoon elaborately decorating a big empty cardboard box and turning it into a “rocket ship”. Most evenings, when I get home from work we sit outside and eat popsicles. Yesterday I watched them ride bikes and scooters up and down the block, all of us loving the late evening twilight. When my son got home from camp today he was pretty tired, so he sat on the couch and read a big chunk of Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger while wolfing down a snack.
This is good stuff, you guys.
- Let’s Sum Up
I tend to think parents know what’s best for their particular children and families. I wholeheartedly believe that a 1970’s-style summer is best for some kids and families, just not mine. This is not a reason to feel guilty. It’s just the reality of our lives.
Tonight before bedtime, I sat on the couch with my kids, who smelled vaguely of sweat and sunscreen, and listened to them talk about their action-packed days and how excited they are to try archery tomorrow.
It was wonderful.