When I first moved to the area outside of Chicago where I currently live, Lilia was two and a half. We moved in the middle of December and by spring we were slowly coming out of our state of hibernation and meeting more neighbors and other parents.
When she was three I started getting the question, "So, what camp is Lilia going to this summer?" I would respond, "I'm not working so she'll be home with me." That was quickly followed by puzzled looks or blank stares.
I didn't know what I was answering wrong or what was up with the looks. After awhile it hit me. Everyone goes to camp.
Flashback to when I was a kid. I grew up an hour and a half south of where I live now. Still a Chicago suburb, but a very different one. Sometimes I feel like I've been transported to a different planet. Not in a bad or good way, just different.
When I was a kid, I never knew anyone that went to a six or eight week summer camp. Sure, I did some Girl Scout camping, but eight week long equestrian camp? I thought that was for royalty.
Come join me on my rocking chair before I give my old lady speech. Ready?
When I was a kid I spent all day running around outside with friends. When I was old enough, my friends and I would ride our bikes to the community pool. Once in awhile some brave parent would volunteer to take the long trip to Indiana Dunes State Park where the real beach was.
When we bought our current house in an older neighborhood with big trees, it reminded me of where I grew up. I took one look around at our fixer upper and pictured my kids having the same kind of summers I had. I was sold.
Several years after we moved in, another couple invited us for dinner at their house. One of the kids asked, "Where is Lilia going to camp?" She should go to XYZ Camp with me!"
The mom turned to me and said, "Well, it's kind of expensive so my parents pay for it. It's about $11,000 for the kids."
I almost spit out my wine. I just smiled and said, "Oh, I bet it's a lot of fun."
Later that night Fran and I talked about the camp fee and I felt anxious. "Do we have to pay $11,000 for our kids to have friends in the summer? Where are the unscheduled days, racing your bike and eating popsicles in the yard? Do they have popsicles made of gold at these camps?"
Since every kid goes to camp, every kid is also tired at the end of the day. Scheduling play dates around dinnertime after a long day really isn't happening. To me that meant, cough up the money or explain to your kids that they won't have friends from June until the end of August.
Last summer, I didn't send the kids to camp. We did manage to do something new every single day, so I wouldn't say we were bored. This year, we are going to be out of town for a total of three weeks. I couldn't fathom paying for three weeks of camp when my kids wouldn't be there.
This summer the kids will continue with things like swim lessons and gymnastics. We'll set up play dates for the the weekend, travel, roast marshmallows in the backyard and catch fireflies. We'll also watch the tumbleweed blow by us at the empty park.
I've found some more affordable options and next year and we'll probably give camp a go. Even though Lilia is now anti-camp because her friend says she hates it, I still think it will be good for them to try.
Maybe Franky will tell his kids one day, "When your Grandma was little, she had to ride her bike everywhere and didn't even go to camp." They'll all gasp in horror. I'll then add that I survived walking the dog in the Polar Vortex and everyone will nod solemnly as they realize just how easy they've got it.
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