We got the official word recently, like so many other parents, that our kids' summer camps were canceled.
August was going to be my son's first time at sleep-away camp. One of his best pals from school was going to be his bunkmate. My daughter was going to try a new YMCA sleep-away camp in June, also with a good friend.
Maybe next year.
Camp cancellations are, logistically, a pain in the neck. Families use day camps and sleep-away camps as safe, fun, reliable summer child care. There's a long, rich history of Chicago parents sleeping outside park district buildings or waiting, sweating, with their fingers hovering over the "enter" keys on their computers for the exact moment registration opens, all in an attempt get into the camps of their choosing before the spots fill up.
But camp is more than just a way to fill the days between school years.
Camp has become, over the last couple decades, a way to coax certain interests out of our children; a place to nurture budding talents; a chance to get a leg up on next school year; a retreat where our children can be surrounded by kids who are similarly wired. There's STEM camp and culinary adventure camp and 3D printing camp and '80s rock camp and improv camp and baseball camp and sewing camp and debate camp and French camp and archery camp and so on.
Until now. Now there's a patchwork of cancellations and online options and wait-and-see emails.
I'm trying to see this as an invitation to rethink summer.
My generation (I'm 45) is among the first to be sold (often for a hefty price) the idea that a perfect childhood was not only possible for us to create for our children, but imperative. There was a wrong way to parent and a right way to parent and with the proper combination of purchasing and researching, we could arrive upon the right way.
Before our children even joined our families, many of us were reading manuals and ranking preschools and learning to cook organic baby food from scratch and registering at Babies R Us for Boppy nursing pillows because regular pillows were too regular.
Parenting, for us, became a verb. A full-time endeavor.
"Today parents pour more capital _ both emotional and literal _ into their children than ever before, and they're spending longer, more concentrated hours with their children than they did when the work-day ended at five o'clock and the majority of women stayed home," Jennifer Senior writes in her brilliant book, "All Joy and No Fun."
"Before urbanization," Senior writes, "children were viewed as economic assets to their parents. If you had a farm, they toiled alongside you to maintain its upkeep; if you had a family business, the kids helped mind the store. But all of this dramatically changed with the moral and technological revolutions of modernity. As we gained in prosperity, childhood came increasingly to be viewed as a protected, privileged time, and once college degrees became essential to getting ahead, children became not only a great expense but subjects to be sculpted, stimulated, instructed, groomed."
Why would that pause during the summer?
It wouldn't. Until now. I'm sort of psyched.
My kids are 10 and 14. I've tried all different approaches to summer, with varying degrees of structure, and I've always felt a tug between filling their days with all the cool options at our fingertips (Art Institute of Chicago camp!) and protecting their days from too many activities because it's summer and they're children.
This summer, our options will be pretty limited, even beyond the realm of camp. There's no guarantee Chicago's beaches or public pools will open. No reason to believe, right now, that we'll be filling our weekends with Little League games or our evenings with minor league games. We've canceled all of our travel plans. It may feel a whole lot like March and April and May have felt, but hotter. Maybe I'll splurge for a fancy sprinkler.
It will be tricky and tense at times. (As I was writing this, my son yelled at my daughter, "You can't just come in my room when I don't want you in my room. IT'S A HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUE." And that is while they still have e-learning to keep them semi-occupied.)
But I'm eager for this unorthodox summer.
The coronavirus has, like nothing before it, laid bare the fallacy of a perfect childhood as something parents could create or control or purchase. We were never in charge of everything and everyone that would shape and teach and harm and feed and entice and befall our children. We were never in charge of even a slice of it. A global pandemic shakes you out of that dream real quick.
I feel like I'm parenting with a different, clearer lens now. A walk after dinner is an outing for us, probably the first and only one of the day. A card game can last several days. We talk so much more now. I know my son's third favorite color. (I used to know only the first one.) We're around for so many more of each other's moments and stories and questions and fears and meltdowns and belly laughs.
Summer has always been an anomaly. A pause and a shift in the usual routines. Maybe this one will feel more like a roadmap for a future _ a future we have very little control over. (Never did, but some of us are only beginning to grasp that.) A future shaped by the knowledge that our kids don't need us to control their outcomes or clear their paths of obstacles or purchase all the right gear nearly as much as they need our time and our delight in their presence.
I've got plenty of those.
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