Hot Town, Summer in the City

Life is one big learning process, and one thing I am learning this month is that random school holidays are often the enemy of the working parent.  It’s funny, actually, because as an educator myself I have always loved school holidays and considered them a terrific perk of the profession.  But now that I have a son in “real school” I am realizing that: 1) there are an inordinate number of school holidays; 2) all schools have different holiday calendars; and, of course, 3) the rest of the world keeps on turnin’ — meaning deadlines still need to be met, phone calls answered, dollars raised, and so on and so forth — while the little ones sleep in, eat pancakes, and go to the park every day.

We are on Day 6 of LittleMan’s first-ever Spring Break.  As I struggle to balance “responsible, occasional telecommuter” with “awesome Spring Break activity guru”, my thoughts inevitably turn to the Mother of All Breaks: summer vacation.  I have heard rumblings about summer vacation being a sucky, stressful time for a working parent, and as Memorial Day approaches they are starting to resonate like thunder.I don’t want to give in to working parent summer vacation fatalism.  I want summer to be fun.  I want it to be relaxing.  I want it to be memorable.  But…I also want to be realistic about my personal bandwidth, because I know from experience that the worst mistake a gal can make is to pretend that “We’ll just spend the mornings at the pool and then I can check all my emails and maybe turn out a few proposals and have a conference call while the kids rest and watch an episode of Berenstain Bears, and with any time left I’ll prep a seasonal salad for dinner before we go to the park.”

Berenstain Bears, it must be acknowledged, is not that long a program.  (I’ve clocked it.)

Okay, so what are we up against here?  Let us do the math.  Summer vacation, as it turns out, lasts 11 weeks.  UMMMM, WHAT?  Do you know how long 11 weeks is??  For starters, it’s a whole summer!  An entire season!  A whopping 21% of the year!  And I know I’ve been married long enough to be brainwashed because after I did the math I immediately thought, “My God, I need a spreadsheet.”

There is no shortage of summer opportunities.  Swim camp, zoo camp, sports camp, bugs n’ slugs camp, art camp, sleep-away camp, math camp, Bible camp, Lego camp; even my gym offers a day camp, for heaven’s sake.  Name an interest, and there’s a camp for that.  There is a wide range of schedules and pricing structures to accommodate every kind of family.  In other words, oh ye mothers and fathers, there is a whole world of opportunity and inspiration and enrichment just waiting to spark your child’s fertile imagination come June 1.

(No pressure.)

With all of this choice and opportunity and responsibility staring me in the face, I did the obvious thing and turned to the mom standing next to me at soccer practice: “Are you guys gonna do camps this summer?”  And then I emailed a couple of other friends and checked with the people at my gym and from this thorough, scientifically-researched pool I chose the least-expensive-but-still-fun-sounding activities I could find, ensuring that LittleMan would usually know at least one friend in the program, and I would never have to drive more than about ten minutes out of my way on the morning commute.

Then I started the enrollment process, which brings me to another, somewhat unfortunate, thing I am learning this month: summer camp people — the ones who Run Summer — are a very relaxed bunch.  And I get it.  Summer is their business, man, and c’mon, it’s summer!

But you know who’s not relaxed?  Crazed working parents who have to figure out 11 weeks of summer, that’s who.  Women with summer camp spreadsheets: by definition, not relaxed.
Consider a recent email in my inbox, from a fellow mom, promoting a little sports camp in the neighborhood.  “THE PRE-K SESSION WILL SELL OUT QUICKLY!!”  the email screamed at me in all caps.  This being the middle of the work day (thank goodness, because at least I was close to a computer and not, say, at the playground or something!), I dropped the foundation proposal I was working on and frantically searched the internet for the registration form.
Well, Coach Summer Camp is clearly not syncing his marketing with his infrastructure, because the registration form I finally located was from 2012.  I called him.
“I’d like to enroll my son in the Pre-K session,” I said, breathless with fear that the session had sold out in the ten fruitless minutes I spent on his website.
“Yeah, okay, just fill out the online form.”
“The form is from last year.  Maybe I’m looking in the wrong place?”
“That’s okay, just fill it out and send a note with the dates you want.”
“Like in an e-mail?”
“Yeah, okay, yeah, just, like, send me an email.”
“Is there a place to pay online?”
“How.  Do.  I.  Pay.”  (My oldest child may be under 5 years old, but I’ve been in the game long enough to know that nothing in this life is confirmed until you’ve put money down.)
“Um, which session do you want again?”
“The Pre-K session.”
“Yeah, just fill out the form online and send me a note.”
Oh, dear Lord.
Who are these people?  I HAVE A SPREADSHEET!  I need to sign up my son for two weeks of Pre-K sports camp (before it sells out quickly) and mark it as CONFIRMED!  Then I will only have 9 weeks left to deal with! (And all the while I’m assuring myself that this guy is distracted only because he is SO focused on guaranteeing the health, safety, and happiness of the children who will be left in his care.  Obviously.)
Once upon a time I was a child and I spent day after day after day at the pool in Marinwood with my mom, her best friend, and my sister, alternating between swim camp and swimsuit ballet class and mucking around in the creek bed and chowing on Goldfish and orange Crush on the grass while the bees swarmed around.  Perhaps that was, simply, a simpler time.  But as I race down the summer camp gauntlet in the fast-flying days of spring, I can’t help wondering (again…yes, again): When did this get so complicated…and does it need to be?
Yes.  And no.

Stop.  Breathe.  Think happy thoughts of poolside barbecues.

Many emails later, I am down to about four open weeks of summer.  I am now planning a big old summer sit-down with my boss to figure out a way, some way, to keep those weeks CONFIRMED, summer-camp-free.
Hmmm.  Maybe it’s time to buy a new swimsuit.


  1. I went through the exact same panic, but in February. That's right. In the cold grip of winter I was planning summer camp. Insanity, I say.

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