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This Is Why I’m Already Having a Summer Camp Dilemma for My 4-Year-Old

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Though you’d think summer camp wouldn’t be hovering atop my radar when it’s 25 degrees outside with snow on the ground, the fact of the matter is that many of us have to decide what we’re doing about summer camp before winter even comes close to showing signs of letting up. And for me, that poses a huge dilemma. Within the next few weeks, I have to submit my application and deposit if I want to secure a spot for my 4-year-old at summer camp, and at this point, it’s pretty much making my head spin.

(Disclaimer: I fully recognize that in the grand scheme of parenting issues, this so-called problem is minor at best. I realize I’m lucky to even be sitting here kvetching about something so trivial, but bear with me.)

Right now, I’m torn between two camp options for my preschooler: the local, 4-hour-a-day, 3-days-a week camp that’s run through our temple—or the full-time, 8-hour-a-day, 5-day-a-week fancy camp a few towns over. I say “fancy” because, well, the majority of full-day camps around here are loaded with amenities designed to keep little ones suitably entertained from morning till night. (One of them even has a ropes course! What?!)

Last year, we went with the temple camp, and while it was a fabulous program for what it was, it left me on the hook for entertaining my son for much of the summer. Now some weeks worked out just fine, but others were a nightmare. Because my twin girls were only around 6 months old at the time, it was difficult for me to take my son pretty much anywhere, because no matter what, we had to stop and feed the babies every few hours. Now that they’re older and eating less frequently, outings have become more manageable. But no matter what, I have to be realistic: It’s going to be tricky taking my son to the beach, or the water park, or pretty much anywhere with a clunky double stroller in tow.

Of course, there’s a major cost difference at play too: The fancy camp option obviously being considerably more expensive. But financial considerations aside, the challenge is this: Right now, my son goes to school for 4 hours a day, and I don’t know that he’s ready to make the jump to being away for double that amount of time. Maybe deciding on camp in February is something that’s easier for parents with older kids who can better estimate their children’s needs (or not—I have no idea), but with little kids, a lot can happen over four months. Perhaps it’s something he might be ready for come July, or maybe not. I just don’t know, but if I don’t pull the trigger within the next few weeks, we’ll lose out on the option.

And also, am I ready to send my son off to such a long day of camp every day and essentially miss out on spending the summer with him? I’m not sure. But then again, do I think I can handle the backlash when toddler boredom rears its ugly head? Because when my son gets bored, it can sometimes get ugly. If I opt for the temple camp, I’ll need to come up with entertainment two full days a week and three afternoons a week, and that’s a lot of pressure. And while the fancy camp would constitute a financial stretch, I’d be willing to take on extra projects to cover the costs if I thought it was the unquestionably wiser decision.

Of course, what gets me is that in a way, no matter what choice I make, I feel like I’m being selfish. If I opt for the temple camp, I’ll save money—a plus for me. If I choose the full-day program, I’ll be off the hook on the entertainment front—another plus for me. But the thing is, I really do want to do what’s best for my son.

Over the past year, I’ve had to make a number of decisions that were best for my family on a whole, but not necessarily any given individual, my son included. For example, when we went on vacation last fall, we had to cut out some fun toddler activities to accommodate our daughters’ meal and sleep schedule. When we thought about signing our son up for private swim lessons last spring, we passed because we’d just had our twins and were trying to be more cautious financially. This is one thing that I’m really trying to get right for my son’s sake and make all about him. Which is why I’m kvetching about it, but more so than that, I’m asking for help. (Of course, when I ask my husband what he thinks, his response is something along the lines of “Do whatever you feel is best.” Thanks, honey, but this time, I wouldn’t mind if you actually had an opinion on the matter.)

So people, what should I do? Pay up, send my son to fancy camp, and hope he’ll have a fun, engaging summer that I’m not really a part of? Or keep him close, but subject him to the inevitable boredom he’ll face if he only goes to camp part-time? Don’t be shy folks, because in the absence of outside words of wisdom, I’m just about ready to flip a coin on this one.


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