Hello. My name is Alina Adams, and my children hate camp. Especially the outdoor variety.
My oldest just turned 16. He has hated every camp experience I’ve ever subjected him to. Indoors, outdoors, Jewish, general, specialized. Hated everything about it.
This summer, like last, my husband insisted our son get a job. His first offer came from–cue Alanis Morissette–a summer camp. He really, really didn’t want to take it (and not merely because they paid less than minimum wage and broke the law about how many hours a kid his age could work). He was, ultimately, really, really relieved when an another opportunity presented itself, set inside a nice, air-conditioned museum, helping tourists find the bathroom and leading children in art projects.
But, at 16, he’s past the summer camp window. His 8-year-old sister and almost 12-year-old brother, are not.
Recently, Kveller writer Lucy Cohen Blatter asked, “Am I crazy for not sending my daughter to summer camp?”
No, Lucy, you’re not.
I am also an NYC mom and, after a few feeble attempts at selling my kids on the camp experience, I had a flash on insight. Why am I forcing my kids to be miserable? More importantly, why am I paying for my kids to be miserable? (Anyone who reads me regularly knows how I feel about parting with money.)
The fact is, I, too hated camp as a kid. Especially of the outdoor variety. (For the record, my husband, the Boy Scout, loved it. But he doesn’t turn crimson and blister at the mere thought of sunshine.)
Most parents I meet have stories of sobbing as they got on the bus, of being picked on, of sucking at sports, and of desperately looking for opportunities to sneak away so they could read their book unmolested. And yet, come adulthood, they turn around and do the same to their kids.
“It’s good for them!” (I think it’s the same justification established doctors use for the residency system.)
But I just don’t see enough value in summer camp to put them–and me–through the experience. I completely understand those who need the childcare. But my husband and I both deliberately left our corporate jobs for more flexible schedules and time with the kids. We’re around all summer long. If they don’t want to go to camp, I am certainly not going to make them.
So, what will we be doing instead? Short answer: Whatever the kids want to do.
My rising 6th grader is currently obsessed with computer programming. His plan for the summer basically includes non-stop tinkering with the website he’s building, Coursacado, which teaches others how to code for free. He can spend hours working on a particularly hairy tech problem, alternately growling in frustration and pumping his fist in the air in triumph. And I’m going to let him. (My happiest summer memories are of being left home alone so I could watch TV from 9 in the morning, when my parents went to work, until 6 at night, when they came home. I started with sitcom reruns, then moved into soap-operas. Ultimately, I ended up getting a Master’s Degree in Broadcast Communication Arts and writing for soap-operas. So attempt this approach with caution; it permanently warps the brain.)
My daughter, on the other hand, has informed me that she wants to spend the summer home-schooling. “I need to work on my spelling and my capitalism.”
Her school was throwing out math and reading workbooks, so she dragged home a stack and made a schedule of when we’d study what. She insists on me giving her homework, then checking it off and awarding her a gold star. (I believe this qualifies as medical academic withdrawal. Do they offer methadone for it?) We’re reading out loud daily, answering comprehension questions, memorizing poetry, drilling math facts, and conducting science experiments. All at her request. Her dad’s a teacher. I blame him for setting such a bad example.
I don’t blame her. When I was her age, I also would have preferred the positive feedback of faux class-work over being dragged outdoors to engage in activities I had no interest in. (She loves to swim–it’s part of her wanting to be a marine biologist–though she stresses that when we go to the public pool it’s not for mere frolicking, rather, it’s PE, and she writes it down on her daily schedule that way).
When I tell other parents that I’m more or less letting my kids run feral all summer (or, at least, set their own agenda), I’m greeted by an array of dismay and shock.
“Won’t they get bored?”
“That’s their problem.”
“What about when they come whining to you about it?”
“I tell them to clean the house.”
Sometimes they actually even do it. On the second day of vacation, my 11-year-old was so bored that he oiled all the door-hinges to stop them squeaking, scrubbed out the toaster, and baked a cake.
This no summer camp thing is a win-win for everybody!