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Tuesday
Aug102010

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.

Reader Comments (62)

I feel I should apologize to you. All of you!

Back in my teaching heyday (I taught dance and theatre for the City of NY and in a private dance school) I ran an arts camp. We did 3 to 6 weeks (can't remember, it was almost 20 years ago) and at first we worked toward one end-of-summer performance but people would only send a kid for one week or the first, third and half of the 6th week (the last half, OF COURSE). This meant that there was no really good way to give everyone a proper part and still have a show at the end that made any sense at all. We spent time making the sets and the costumes but everyone wants a part, you know? So eventually it was decided we would go to the one performance per week model. As much as I loved the kids and loved doing that as a job more than doing what I do now, the one performance a week was my least favorite model. BY FAR. No fun for anyone. But logistically? Perfect.

Phooey.
August 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKizz
See, I went "away" to camp for 4 weeks. I realize now, why I went away to camp, but at the time it seemed like I was doing something cool and grown up. And that it was all about me.Of course it wasn't. It was all about my parents have a real vacation without kids and then several weeks of non-kid living.Everyone won really. No talent show.
August 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSara Davis
How odd that you mention this as it is a problem of mine this very week. My daughter is at a musical camp this week, and they have invited parents to come and see their performance this Friday from 11am to noon. That's right, a show in the middle of the day when all of the parents are at work, thus necessitating the need for the kid to go to camp in the first place!

It's like the camp is setting the kids up to be disappointed when their parents are a no-show, and the parents to feel more guilty than they already do about having to work and missing summertime with their kids.

Luckily I can slip out from work to attend this time, but I missed the "family picnic" they had another week. Sigh.



August 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertuesy
Okay, one a week IS a commitment.

And you have to show up on time right?

Can you bring drinks?
August 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHolly
Wait, there are camp haters? They must spend a lot of time hating, because I think 99% of kids in the USA go to camp. Maybe you could please them by putting Henry in frog camp?
August 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKristin
I'm with you on this one. These performances are just to soften you up for the mandatory attendance at innumerable school band concerts. If I didn't have my knitting to bring along with me, I would definitely hurt someone.
Totally with you on this. Overnight camp (for my seven year old) means two weeks of wondering what he's doing & how he is, & much as I miss him, I really believe in not knowing.

This is a little about rocket camp... the camp before overnight camp

http://www.valleyadvocate.com/blogs/home.cfm?aid=12087
August 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Buttenwieser
This is both hilarious and oh, so true... It reminds me of the very first "end-of-term show" my elder daughter was in at her first school - she was 2.5. Picture the scene: south of France, bilingual school but almost exclusively French-speaking kids (apart from my daughter, but she was only 2.5). The (probably rather too elaborate) theme: Alice in Wonderland. My daughter's class were first up, doing the White Rabbit thing. But: they're French-speaking 2-3 year olds, with French-speaking parents, so the whole "I'm late, I'm late" thing sounded like "Omelette, omelette"... Given that the theme (at that early stage of the interminable show) wasn't immediately obvious, it all seemed pretty surreal to have 12 very small kids in plush rabbit costumes bouncing around the stage squealing "omelette" over and over again. I have to confess that I got a terrible attack of the giggles and had to leave the room...Oh, the memories...Now that said daughter is 8.5, the shows are probably better quality, but much less amusing...
August 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKirsty
I grew up in Utah where there was a very high birth rate and lots of stay-at-home-moms, and in my neighborhood most families were on very tight budgets. We camped as families, but I didn't know anyone who went to summer camp, at least until we were teenagers and went to overnight church camps or Scout camps. So I've always thought of summer camp as something you read about in books or saw depicted in movies. (The Addams' Family Values has the best such depiction.) We didn't have frogs, but we had lots of undeveloped land, and we spent the summer running amok in ways that were sometimes idyllic and other times quite dangerous. (For example, the local grocery store stopped selling dry ice to minors only after a few too many mailboxes had been exploded--I never blew up an ice box but I knew kids who did).

Since I have a pretty large passel of kids myself, camp hasn't seemed worthwhile unless I could find a camp that would take 13-year-olds and 1-year-olds at the same location. My daughter did attend an acting camp this year, though, and that performance was AMAZING--mostly because my daughter is so very amazing.

Once-a-week barely-rehearsed performances would be very annoying, though.
August 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterZina
I meant to say I never blew up a mail box. I guess the "ice box" thing slipped in when I got to talkin' 'bout them olden-timey days.
August 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterZina
OMG, do I love this post. I too suffer from the "camp performance" confusion. The worst of the summer was a one week half-day sports camp, 12- 4 pm. Friday started with a Jump Competition! followed by Other Such Events! running from 1 pm - 4 pm, to which parents were joyfully invited. Whaaaa? So the camp is in point of fact a 4 day camp, I guess, since you're taking a pass on the actual supervised-event-type thing I thought we were paying for? I, beyond irritation, explained to my daughter (8 years old) that I would not be attending the EVENTS! but rather would be working, which is the point of enrolling her in the camp, and would pick her up at 4 pm. UPON ARRIVAL, THEY'D "FINISHED EARLY," and not called me nor permitted my daughter to use a phone to call me when she asked to do so, and so she sat sadly w/ counsellors and one or two other poor likewise orphaned kids, till I arrived at 3:50 pm, just in time to feel like A TOTAL JACKASS DEADBEAT. WTF, camp? Why do you screw with me so?Back to school--HURRAH.
August 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMSS
It's not camp if the kid isn't at least an hour drive away! I went to a one-week camp that was three hours from home, and my parents didn't even drive me; I went by camp bus.

So no performance for the parents nonsense. We did skits the last night for each other, that mostly focused on grossout jokes or bad dance routines. And puns. The parents were not involved except in sending us letters and money.

Henry may be a little young for that, but someday....
August 11, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteremjaybee
I have this problem at school, forget about camp! In first grade, the kids had a celebration for every holiday and then some. The joke with the other parents was "Wait! Isn't today Johnny Appleseed Day? Surely we should be making apple crafts!" I'm not kidding, the same 10 parents had to deal with organizing at least one or two celebrations a month, then attend it. I work PT, and it was still too much for me to handle. I kept asking, "What if we just say no? What happens?" But no one would follow my lead. Sigh.
August 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSCJ
I played with frogs and ran around outside and mostly was bored silly during my summer vacations as a child. Frogs notwithstanding, there was very little to recommend it. My daughter does 8 weeks of day camp in our town and mercifully only one performance a summer to attend. There are no frogs, yet somehow she manages to enjoy herself.
August 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarah
Oh. My. Gawd. YES. Thank you.

I was so happy that last week's camp was strictly tennis and no invitations were issued for the last-day tournament. What a relief. I can't stand the "shows" at the end of the week... except for maybe the horseback riding, I'll confess to appreciating that one.
August 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMyra L
My guess is that they've got really boring jobs that they are happy to get out of. Not that I'm projecting at all....
August 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKatie
I love you.
August 11, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteranita
I bet the other parents are more ecstatic about being away from their jobs then the actual child performances.
August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCindy
Alice! I never comment, but this post was hilarious. You're brilliant!

As a former long-time camp counselor, I can assure you that most counselors also resent these performances. I protested having these weekly shows each summer, to no avail because "parents love it". Ha!

Let's start a union.
August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSuzi Sobriquette
You are my idol, Alice. LOL Are you channeling me?

Yes, our son does camp too. Agreed - need the precious! Ok, now I'm going to be in LOTR mode all day.
August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLou
How is it that you are so often able to dig inside my brain and very wittily write about what is in there? HOW?
August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEOMama
hahaha yup yup and yup
August 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteramigurumigirl
It's crazy that they do these every week! My friend works at a camp over the summer and he teaches the kids a performance for the end of camp. They practice their lines daily and actually look forward to it. Once a week is just too much!
August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara
YMCA camp. I drop them off, I pick them up. They do stuffs all day. My showing up mid day isn't required.

It's the best camp experience of my life...I mean theirs. :p
August 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIssa
Oh my gd, you nailed it. And my kids spent three weeks this summer at a camp that is otherwise awesome but expected parents to come for a half hour performance BY THE COUNSELORS at the end of every week. Because what is more entertaining than sitting in the sun and watching a group of random college kids goof around enthusiastically about science?
August 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterspacewoman

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