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You Camp Be Serious!

As much as I hate to see it go, it’s good summer’s nearing a close.

Parents (or at least this parent) get sloppy when school’s out and the strict wake, work, wake, work routine of the school year melts into an amorphous, three-month spree of float, eat, nap…

I’m embarrassed at how easily the rules I set up with my children’s best interest in mind — dietary guidelines, hygiene habits — are overturned by the warbling notes of a passing ice cream truck and the compelling swimming-pool-as-bathtub argument.

The justification for such anarchy, of course, is that it’s only temporary. We know that a few months of slippery discipline between the end-of-school potluck and the back-to-school potluck won’t kill a kid.

Where our logic goes wrong, though — where our laissez-faire parenting practices may have disastrous long-term effects — is in our funding of frivolous summer camps.

Surf Camp. Archery Camp. Circus Camp, for God’s sake.

In my rush to secure some blissful alone time — time to write without fielding the dreaded, “Mom, I’m bored, bored, BORED!” refrain — I signed my 8-year-old up for every camp he showed interest in. Broadway musical camp? Sure. Dog obedience camp? OK. Jedi Camp (where Star Wars-obsessed adults educate giddy little boys in the ways of The Force)? Um, alright. Truth is, they sounded fun even to me; and the more fun they were, the more likely I’d get some peace and quiet to do my work.

But as summer tapers off like the point of a snow cone, and I reflect on the $1,000 I’ve just invested in my son’s development as a human being, I’m a little concerned. Because what I now have is not a fourth-grader who’s appreciative of R&R and eager to return to academics with a clear head.

What I have is a kid torn between a career as an actor and a puppy trainer — who now thinks it’s OK for grown men to wear Jedi robes and carry light sabers in public.

My girlfriend sent her son to rock guitar camp — which culminated in a deafening performance of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man,” during which her boy wore spiked hair, an Ozzy grimace, and a worrisome twinkle in his eye.

“When we enroll our children in these camps,” she now wonders, “what are we encouraging them to do, really? Are we aware they may actually find their niche? And we may inadvertently be signing up for years of metal rock concerts?”

According to the American Camp Association, there are more than 12,000 camps operating this summer, and most are aimed at thrilling kids: Hollywood Stuntman Camp. Fashion Camp? Gold-Panning?! But plenty are designed to please parents.

And wouldn’t our camp fees be better spent at, say, Healthspace Cleveland’s Pre-Med Camp, where kids “explore career opportunities in healthcare” while donning scrubs and dissecting organs. In the photo, they look like kidneys, but I wouldn’t know, as I spent my summers, (ahem) weaving lanyards.

How about San Jose’s Web Architects Camp, where pre-teens design and publish an Internet site for the company of their dreams? Or Global Youth Village in Bedford, Virginia, where teens learn time management, goal setting, and resume writing? (Did I mention my son is now skilled in dog poop disposal? I wonder if there’s money in that.)

I have a friend who flew her 11-year-old to the Midwest this summer for two whole weeks of intensive Japanese language camp; the tongue of our future world leaders.

Now that’s a smart mom — a year-round parent whose diligence doesn’t melt in the heat of summer. Because if you think about it, she didn’t just get more peace of mind then I did; she got more peace and quiet.

Published inColumnsParenting

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