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I Had the Time of My Life

August 23, 2012

And I owe it all to you, Camp Broaden Your Horizons.

Woo hoo! Let the good times roll.

I personally didn’t partake in the camp – although as I’ve said before, our society has gotten it all wrong when it comes to summer camp. We are sending the wrong people. (Just what stresses are eight-year-olds under that they need two months of carefree summer fun to decompress and rejuvenate?) Still, I certainly did revel in the camp experience this summer.

This isn’t the first year I sent my kids to camp, but it is the first year I was able to truly enjoy it. And, now, as the last week of camp is edging to a close, a darkness has fallen upon my house. These were the best weeks of my life, and tomorrow they will be over.

While I’ve relied on camp every year since my kids could sit upright, the orchestration of the whole camp situation every single one of those years has been an exhausting, anxiety-provoking, miracle-working experience. Camp for me is never, as its name promises, fun and stress-free. Instead, camp has been nothing short of a mad scramble to patch together multiple, short-lived summer programs since no single program exists that runs the entire duration of summer or operates for any logical number of daylight hours. Well, no affordable camp anyway.

I have spent my summers, at least in the early years, shuffling two kids to two different locations at the same time only to pick them up a few short hours later to run them to yet another camp for the afternoon, providing me neither productive work time nor peace of mind. I rigged it up as such because I was trying to find the cheapest mode of summer fun to keep my kids off my back while I worked for no money (also known as writing) even if the system was so convoluted as to be virtually useless.

Mom, please, don’t leave me here. Heeelp!

So off the kids went to the cheap-but-inexcusable-excuse-for-a-summer-camp my town ran. The camp though was so completely awful that I couldn’t let them languish in there all day. To compensate for forcing them to attend the sweltering, unstructured, free-for-all prison-camp, which offered supplies only while they lasted, I supplemented with the educational enrichment program the school district ran.

I would have sent them to the school’s summer program exclusively except the program was only three hours long, and I had about 12 more hours a day to fill. The school’s program also only ran for 22 days. If anyone in the school’s office ever checked a calendar they would see summer lasts for a full 54 days not counting weekends, and their program didn’t even cover half that time. So I drove them over to the enrichment program in the morning and then raced back at 11:30 to cart them over to the town prison-camp.

The town’s prison-camp ran slightly longer than the school program but not by much. It ended after the first week of August, which led me to ask: Are town administrators not aware of the number of weeks in August? If the whole purpose of camp is to provide a steady, reliable bridge between the end of one school year and the beginning of another, this one collapsed mid-way across. An entire month of the nearly three in summer break is left with no coverage. The school, I understood, was only obligated to operate summer programs for so long, and so they had the liberty of quitting after only a ridiculous 22 day-session, but the town camp? What was their excuse?

Aside from the completely idiotic and inconvenient set-up, the town camp had other problems. Like the day I walked in to see all the counselors huddled on the bleachers blabbing on their cell phones while the kids were left to run the camp themselves. Actually, that happened every day. It seemed to be the way the camp operated, and while I didn’t like it, I grew accustomed to it.

But the complete lack of effort by anyone associated with the camp wasn’t even the most egregious issue. Honestly, I was more offended by the counselors’ complete lack of pretense of effort. No one even tried to look like they were working. Still, neither of these was the real problem.

The real problem came the day I arrived to collect my daughter, and the counselors didn’t know where she was. Actually, this had happened before, too. The camp held various activities, all unorganized and sparsely supervised, in various spots around the building so when I showed up, they frequently had no idea where my kid was.

But this day was different because they couldn’t find her. In the past while they’d never showed any particular urgency or interest in locating my child, they did always find her. Or I did because I couldn’t take their abject incompetence and stupidity and went looking for her myself. But this day they’d placed several walkie-talkie calls to the different locations and still came up empty. Then one counselor got the ingenious idea of actually searching for my daughter himself. That was when he asked me for a description of her. My daughter had been attending the camp all summer long, I was the only one who ever picked her up, and the camp only had a handful of campers. And they still didn’t know who the hell my kid was?

With the description of my little girl who had been in his care the entire summer, the guy went searching but came back from the movie room without her. Then I went looking, which is when I stumbled upon a little kid roaming the halls alone. I may have been able to cope with the camp’s mismanagement, disorganization and absolute apathy, but safety was a fairly basic tenet of childcare I was not willing to overlook. When I did finally find my daughter in the movie room (I suppose my description wasn’t adequate for the counselor to distinguish her from the dozen or so other faces in the room), we left never to return again.

Look how cute. He wouldn’t hurt anyone. At least that’s what the Y says.

The next year we discovered the affordable AND well-run YMCA camp. And for a time the Y was wonderful. I thought I had finally found a stable relationship, one that would stand the test of time, but after a few years something came between me and the Y (mostly black bears), and once again I set off on a search for my one true love. In Camp Broaden Your Horizons, I found it.

Camp BYH was everything I’d been looking for and more. It offered logical hours, a helpful staff, interesting and educational activities, engaged counselors, black-bear free accommodations, a steady supply of ice pops, happy campers and, most importantly, a worry-free zone. I knew once I unloaded the kids, Camp BYH would take care of the rest. Really, I didn’t even have to unload the kids. The counselors did that for me. See, that’s what I’m talking about. The camp actually looked to serve me. No one had ever done that for me before.

The one thing Camp BYH didn’t have though was a reasonable price. But I no longer cared about that. I no longer care about anything except Camp BYH. Camp BYH was like the part-time nanny I never had. And, I suddenly realized, I needed it. So I freed my mind of all reasonable and rational thought and splurged. Although I am now no longer able to retire, I don’t regret my decision. The camp may have been an extravagant expenditure, but I loved every minute of pretending to be rich – if only for one brief summer.

Photo: Flickr/prunderground (top), pagetx (middle), and solviturambulando (bottom)

  1. Your story, unfortunately, is the norm, not the exception.This is the missing piece of the “Having it All” dialogue, or should I say monologue — continually written by super-rich, white women. The world has changed – moms and dads now work. When will we update our educational institutions (and tax laws, and leave policies, and healthcare) to reflect the change?

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