As much as the kids dream of summer vacation, as much as they sing, "No more pencils, no more books..." it takes about two hours -- if I'm lucky -- before they're bored and appoint me head counselor in charge of camp spirit, baking and trips, not to mention night activity.
What's a harassed parent to do?
Sleep away camp of course. Which brings its own challenges. There's the mad rush for last minute items. Erma Bombeck once wrote that around her house Sunday night was memory night -- "I just remembered I have a project due tomorrow," "I just remembered I need graph paper for tomorrow." Been there, done that, right?
The last two weeks before camp take on that same frantic quality. "All I need now is a bathing suit...and socks...and a terry robe...and shampoo...and (worst of all) labels for all my clothing." We patiently spend hours ironing on those name tags which never seem to prevent my children coming home minus a few crucial garments.
Finally, they board the plane or bus, depending upon your address. But it's too early to breathe a sigh of relief. Despite strict camp rules about phoning home and rigid schedules, my children always seem to find the one child with a cell phone -- and free nights and weekends! So the calls start -- the crying, the pleading, the heartbreaking sobbing and begging. "Please bring me home!" "The food is terrible and I haven't eaten in three days." "My friends from Los Angeles have their New York friends and won't talk to me." All included in the high price of summer camp.
Being a ‘veteran' now, I've discovered that the kids who cry the most are the ones who end up staying the longest. And crying when they leave. And returning summer after summer. (And crying again!)
And what about the ones left at home, those that don't like camp but can't see themselves as a mother's helper (even their own!)? Or the ones who go to day camp and visit the same spots year after year with that mean driver on that hot bus that seems to break down in the same spot every summer!
It's hard to make summer fun. It's hard to make it productive. (It's hard not to go broke in the process!)
And with (or without!) those activities, there's the constant chaos -- the kitchen that never closes, the wet or sandy towels, the art projects, tennis lessons and occasional family trips.
And of course it's important to set aside time for nudging. "Did you daven today?" "Did you review your math?"
Frankly, I find summer exhausting and look forward to the halcyon days of fall and the beginning of school. But as King Solomon wisely advises us in Ecclesiastes, there is an appropriate time for everything. There are advantages and opportunities to the summer that aren't available any other time of year (I just have to think of some!)
There is the chance to spend more relaxed time with out children. They can play more sports, spend more hours outdoors, get more exercise; we can all enjoy the water. There is more singing and dancing and spirited activities.
The pressure should be off. Bedtime can be a little later. We can sit outside and just watch the stars (if we drive far enough out of the city). We can bike ride and get ice cream and walk by the ocean.
It's an opportunity to appreciate the Almighty in a whole new dimension, by focusing on the beauties of the natural world.
It's all about expectations. If we expect order and routine (and a clean house), then the summer will be a disaster. But if we can let go of our usual need for order, if we can adopt a more "go with the flow" attitude (I do live in California after all), then we might actually discover some deeper joys, pleasures, connections.
As I look outside my bedroom window now, the sun is shining, the roses are blooming, the leaves are blowing gently in the breeze. And I can taste the potential of summer. It's lying there, just beyond my reach. It's up to me to choose it or waste the moment.
All it takes is a little slowing down and a lot of letting go. Maybe this is the summer I can really do it.