Give the Kids a Break…
As the school year winds down, I am finally starting to sip a demitasse of sanity. Cub Scouts, done. Wolf Badge, procured! Kid Kickboxing, over. One more Saturday of Little League. My children are by no means super-scheduled, but even just one or two activities are enough to keep the whole family running on a treadmill. Summer is coming and I’m ready to slam my foot on the breaks with kid activities.
As parents, we often look at everyone around us and assume that the prevailing societal norm is sane. I’ve gotten emails from mothers in December asking about our plans for summer camp and sharing their week by week line up of programs. I break into hives just thinking about it and I too have agonized about what the kids are “doing” all summer.
But I am listening to my inner voice more lately, and it is reminding me that my kids need to have real down time. What they truly need is some boredom. They’re growing up in an age where we are training ourselves to not be able to tolerate one single moment of boredom. Not one moment standing on line, not during our commute, not even talking on the phone (for business!). We’re checking feeds and looking for any distraction. The effect on our brain is not good… imagine what it does to a child’s. I can’t recommend the book Deep Work enough – it paints such an illuminating picture of what our need for constant distraction is really doing to us.
As a kid I pretty much watched I Dream of Jeannie reruns all summer long and swam in our tiny pool with my cousin who lived next door. Both our grandmothers lived downstairs from us and we made collections of the buttons from their sewing kits, trading them and playing the days away. I was a child of the 80’s who binged on Froot Loops and watched General Hospital after school, like in the 4th grade, so, er, a little more structure probably would not have been a bad thing. But just a little. I do want to expose my children to lots of experiences, for them to discover what they love. But I don’t want to sign them up for hundreds of dollars worth of summer programs just because that is “what people do.”
There’s camp, and then there’s “camp”…
Families with two parents working full time need their kids to be somewhere all day long. But here’s my shocking revelation: many of the camps here are more expensive than a babysitter. (Especially when you look at all the student babysitters that are home for the summer, happily available and less expensive than career nannies.) And if you have more than one kid to send to camp – ouch. But the thing that really gets me is that so many of these programs are a waste of money. Example: last summer I signed my son up for a week of Tennis Camp. I hung around for a while the first day to check it out and watched as he wandered around endlessly. Is it fun to be on a hot tennis court for hours with hardly any personal attention? No. I was paying for a babysitter – not for him to learn tennis. But I signed him up because I wanted him to learn some tennis. A few weekly private lessons would have been cheaper, more effective and more fun.
I have many times over learned this lesson with skiing, a painfully expensive family activity. A private lesson is costly, but not as costly as the daylong program, which is ok, if you want a super expensive babysitter. But not if you want your kid to actually learn… how to ski. I recall watching my son fall down at “ski camp” from afar with no one noticing or helping him up until I went over. Not the way to get your kid to decide skiing is fun when they are a few years from it actually being fun.
It goes without saying that there are, of course, many marvelous camps available to kids, especially in a big city. But are they worth going into debt for? Negative.
So I won’t feel guilty for continuing to entrust my children into the care of my babysitter while I am at work this summer. Expensive as she is, she is still is cheaper than the average camp for one kid and a downright bargain compared to the cost of camp for two kids. My older son will do one week of baseball camp because, to the delight of his father and I, he has fallen in love with baseball and the Mets this year. Since his glove is now surgically attached to his hand, I know he will have fun and take something away from it. Both my kids will spend two weeks with their grandparents out of the city… yay, free! Importantly, they will be severely limited in their screen time. I work from home two days a week and since we’re not really going on any major vacation, I’ll dedicate my days off to get to our favorite places and revel in having the city to ourselves. That’s my plan.