In which I complain about summer camp

Before I even start: I know there are some of you who don’t cotton to the notion of “camp.” I’m sure that in your day, summer was spent ambling about the countryside, swimming down by the ol’ swimming hole, catching frogs, singing songs by the fire, putting frogs in Ma’s bathwater, making mud pies, poking at frogs with sticks, daydreaming, picking wild raspberries in Old Man Dobson’s raspberry bushes, throwing frogs at Old Man Dobson, and other such relaxed, nonscheduled, frog-related activities.

I’m sure those are lovely memories, but around these parts, Henry goes to camp. This happens for several reasons. First of all, his friends who remain in the city also attend camp, so if he didn’t go to camp, he wouldn’t get to hang out with them. But the most important reason is so I can work. I work so that 1) we get money for goods and services and 2) I do not go insane. But not to worry, camp-haters—camp ends this week, and there will be plenty of time for moseying and vacation-type wholesomeness. School doesn’t begin until mid-September. We will enjoy an extended unscheduled period that may or may not end in a significant loss of sanity. Are you happy now?

As I was saying before I felt the need to defend myself against imaginary frog-obsessed readers: camp. Henry went to a general, crafts-and-sports camp last summer, and it seemed to go well, until at the end of the summer he confided that, in fact, he hated it. Hated it! He explained that he had kept quiet because he didn’t want to make a fuss. I found this remarkable, as fuss-making is among Henry’s favorite activities.

At any rate, we chose a couple of different camps this year. This way, if he didn’t like one, he wouldn’t have to stay there for long, and if he loved it, he’d be really sad to leave and not want to go to the next one when his time there was up. Wait.

A couple of the artier camps Henry has attended feature an end-of-the-week performance. Note that I did not say end of the summer. Or even end of the month. At the end of each week, we are expected to arrive early at camp, so we can witness a performance that the children have been working their little hearts out on for four days. Of course not four straight days, as they also need to have time to eat, sing songs, draw, swim, run about, and plot our deaths. So let’s say they’ve focused on the performance aspect of the camp for about fifteen minutes in any given day. Who doesn’t want to see a show where the actors have rehearsed for a full hour? That’s magic!

I realize one does not necessarily attend a children’s performance expecting quality theatre. No, you go to see the product of your kids’ efforts, and you go because they’re excited and proud and it’s adorable. But even the kids aren’t especially psyched to perform something they barely know because it’s only been four days. Henry usually isn't clear about what his role in the play even is, and he spends his time on stage performing his own quirky dance routine instead of following any of the counselors’ frantically whispered directions.

Actually, his dance is pretty great, and worth the trouble of attending.

So why do these camps do it? Is it to prove to us that our children are getting something out of camp? Can they possibly understand how little I care? Something these undoubtedly well-meaning and gung-ho camp organizers do not seem to grok is that I (and, I assume, most other parents) put my child in camp so I did not have to be with him during those hours. Of course there are other reasons. Like his having fun and making friends and bloo de bloo. But’s not like camp runs into bedtime. We have most of an afternoon to gaze into each other’s eyes. All I ask for is a few hours to myself, so I can write (in my blog, for instance—hello!), go to the gym, catch frogs, and otherwise enjoy my precious non-parenting time.

With these weekly shows, camp is taking away my precious. Leave me my precious, camp.

(The camp performances this year, at least, are nothing compared to the camp Henry went to in New Jersey, where they put on a weekly “talent show” in the middle of the day, and the parents were all expected to file in to watch their children half-heartedly lip-synch to Hannah Montana songs. Those talent shows made me want to punch everything. Punching everything is frowned upon in New Jersey, though, despite what you may hear.)


Adding insult to injury, the other parents don’t seem especially fazed by these performances. In fact they seem to enjoy them. They don’t complain at all. They arrive at camp with smiles on their faces, and they take pictures and coo while their children shuffle about the stage. I can’t figure it out. Is it because it’s only an hour (but sometimes more!) out of their lives? And the kids are pretty adorable, even if they don’t have any lines and the counselors who are clearly all frustrated actors are doing most of the acting? Or maybe, as my husband and friends have suggested, other adults are simply better able to control their facial muscles than I am, and can smile when they feel like scowling and/or pouting? It’s all very curious.

At any rate, this week is the last camp-play I’ll be attending. For this summer, at least. I’ll try to act like I’m sad this is the last one, but I’m not promising anything.