A rant on summer camps

When I was a child, I thought the purpose of summer camp was for kids to have fun. As the child of a stay-at-home mom, I never got to go to summer camp, but I did plenty of fantasizing about what it would be like to sleep in bunks, jump in lakes, and sit around a camp fire with a group of strangers who would quickly becomes my best friends (if this sounds like a movie, it's because movies about summer camps were my sole frame of reference).


Fast forward 30 years and I now understand the true purpose of camps: they are the bandaid on the bullet wound of summer break. The yawning eight to ten week chasm between the end of a school year and the beginning of a new one strikes terror into the heart of working parent households. You can't let the kids watch TV or play video games all day. You can't entertain them yourself because you still have a job. So camp it is. 

The problem? Camps increasingly seem to be confused about their purpose on this Earth. Take, for example, the ballet camp my five year old did during the second week of break. This camp only lasted half-day (better than nothing!), but on the third day of a five day camp all of the parents got an email: our little ballerinas would be giving a performance on the last day of camp -- Friday -- starting an hour before pick up time. Did they mention that our kids are so excited to show off their hard work? (translation: we've already told your kid that you're coming!).

Or another example, this time from bicycle camp: "we'll be having a parade on Friday for all the kids to show off their skills! Can't wait to have you join us! This kids are excited!!!!"

So let's break this down: 

  1. I am paying an obscene amount of money for this camp to entertain / watch my kid for 3 hours a day so I can work. 
  2. The camp gives me less than 48 hours notice that there is a thing that I should attend (while they are still supposed to be watching my kid).
  3. They have set the expectation with my 5 year old that I will be there for this mid-workday performance.

So now I have two choices: (1) rearrange my schedule and skip out even earlier on work to go see a bunch of five year olds flail around a dance studio / wobble around a parking lot / struggle through 3 lines o or (2) I stick to my guns and endure the tears and pleading and eventually the resigned look of profound disappointment that signals that I have failed as a parent.

Here's the thing: if these camps just didn't turn the last day into a performance, I would be winning as a parent. My kid learns a new skill. She's proud of herself. She's having fun. She's making friends. She isn't glued to a screen. She's absorbing a modicum of vitamin D (through her SPF 70 mineral reef safe suncreen, of course). She's living her best childhood while I remain gainfully employee. Camp is ruining this for me and every other parent.

 So dear camp organizers, this is my plea: stop inviting parents to the last day of day camp. I promise you, we trust that you're doing the thing with our kid that we're paying you to do. We hear about camp every day when they get home. My kid went to bike camp with training wheels and came home without them. You did it! You get a gold star! Can we please cut out the part where I look like a heartless shrew? 

That is all.



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