Friday, February 26, 2010

Summer Camp in February

I have spent the last three weeks obsessing over what to do with my kids during the summer. Most of February has been consumed with looking at summer camps for July and August. Something wrong with this picture? It's rainy and cold here in L.A. (sorry for you folks up to your eyeballs in snow), our typical winter weather...a few Christmas decorations still haven't found their way back into the rickety cardboard box in the garage, and I'm contemplating taking a small home loan out in order to be able to afford to send my kids off to frolic in fields, skip rocks on ponds and toast marshmallows over a fire pit so that I can go to work while they are out of school. It's February...okay, almost March, but still, I can't manage to wrap what's left of my parenthood addled brain around the idea of planning for summer.

One year, I tried winging it. I was going to adopt a free and easy, "everything will work out as it is supposed to" attitude. I hate that attitude. I hate people who espouse that attitude. It almost never works out as you want it or need it to and I guess it is primarily for people who don't care that “that’s how it's supposed to be” isn't always the way you need it to be. It was a nightmare...truly, one of the worst summers of my life. It seemed like I spent the entire summer with my butt plastered to hot leather car seats as I drove different kids to different camps, none of which lasted a full day and required me to use my lunch hour to shuttle them back and forth between camp and babysitters. It was cheap, but in the end, not worth the cost of the mental anguish it caused me.

The next summer I swore to send them both to one, full day camp which was close to where I worked...walking distance in fact. Oh, it was a swell idea until I opened up the brochure and found that picture perfect camp arrangements come at a price...a price that would have been enough to send my entire family of four to France for two weeks and still have money left over for tickets to Disney Paris. But unfortunately, it was camp, not Paris that we ended up shelling out a small fortune for and even though it was easy on my psyche, my pocketbook is still hurting.

So now, it's time to plan for camp again…in February. A friend told me about a camp her children adored which was not far from where both our husbands worked. I liked the idea - it was a real camp in the woods, it was full day, expensive but not bank breaking, and because it was near my husband's office, he could take on part of the summer shuttling duties this year. But then she added, "Unfortunately, new families don't always get in on the first try. You might end up on a wait list." A wait list for camp...not Harvard or Yale, not opening night at a new nightclub...a summer camp. I felt defeated but managed to shove down the growing fear about having to face another summer of winging it and picked up the phone. I called the camp office to see if I could find some way to better my odds of getting my kids in. Cowboy Bob answered the phone. I found that charming, but still had to bite my ever sarcastic tongue not to respond by saying, "Hi Cowboy Bob, this is Crazed Mommy Dawn..." He told me which program days might give us a better chance of not getting wait listed but suggested we drive our application and deposit check over the next day instead of using the mail.

I quickly filled out the application and then decided to use a tactic that helped us get our first house by winning over the owners with a personal note and photograph as a way of begging them to sell it to us and not the five other couples making offers on the house. It worked for a house, so why not for summer camp? I printed out a picture of my girls from last summer and had them each write a little note on the picture about why they wanted to go to the camp, folded it up and tucked it in the envelope along with the application. I felt foolish, like one of those parents you read about who hire consultants to get their kids into the right kindergarten. But I didn't want to get my kids into kindergarten, I just wanted them off the streets during the summer at a camp that wasn't just open from 9 to 12 and that wouldn't require me taking a second job to pay for it!

I sent the application off yesterday. So now we wait to see if we get into camp. In the meantime, I'll think about what other trip - maybe Greece, maybe Rome, maybe just fixing the leaky roof we discovered in all the February rains - all the things we could have done for the cost of summer camp.

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