Rites of Passage (aka: Why I Want to Send My Kids to Camp)

Summer Camp Kids Backpacking Every year, as summer approaches, I am consumed by the overwhelming urge to send my kids away to summer camp. No, silly – not as a punishment. And not because I seek time alone apart from my kids. Honestly, they are terrific kids, and I enjoy spending time with them. Summer camp is the opposite of a punishment. It is a treat. An American annual tradition. A rite of passage for school-aged kids. And in my own personal memories, a heavenly oasis in the middle of an otherwise dull summer vacation.

I was discussing summer camp the other day with my kids while my younger brother happened to be visiting. The conversation went something like this:

Me: (Sigh).          Wasn’t YMCA Camp Ravencliff the best?

My Brother:       Yeah. We had the best time.

Both of Us:         Y-M! Y-M! Y-M-C-A! C-A! C-A! C-A-M-P!

Y-M-C-A C-A-M-P, Y-M-C-A C-A-M-P!

Y CAMP, Y CAMP, Y-A-A-A-A-Y Y CAMP!

Of course, my kids were stunned speechless by our sudden outburst. I then took advantage of their speechlessness by gushing about how awesome YMCA summer camp was. Well, okay, the powdered milk was not awesome. Nor were the water ticks that stung like bees while we swam in the warm, green Eel River (yes, I think there were eels in the Eel River). But the cabins, and the crazy games and campfire skits, and the wacky counselors, and the songs, the songs, the plethora of silly and significant songs which millions of other children have learned during their own summer camp experiences – those were the things that made camp great. 3 kids at summer camp

But, like many great things in life, summer camp is dreadfully expensive. For this reason, my kids have missed out. Well, that isn’t entirely true. My oldest has been to summer camp twice, and loved every second. And all three kids have had opportunities every year to go away to outdoor education camp with their classes at school. We also go camping as a family at least once every summer. So no, they have not exactly missed out. But still, I am dying to send my daughter to one of the girl scout camps where I was once a counselor, where girls her age can go backpacking, sailing, kayaking, and horseback riding. I would love to send my younger son off to his big brother’s camp, where he can learn archery and try out the ropes course. But it is oh, so expensive.

So I will wait. And this time, perhaps do a better job of saving money just for the purpose of letting my youngest kids experience one year of summer greatness. One week to observe the great rite of passage that is summer camp, so that when they are adults, their eyes will light up as they launch into the camp song that warms their memories, as my camp song has done for me, for my siblings, and for so many other children across the country.

Maybe some people will read this and think that it is not worthwhile to spend hundreds of dollars so that my kids can enjoy a week of silly games and songs. But it is so much more than that. For me, summer camp was my first foray into the world away from my family and those who knew me. It was my first opportunity to grow and get to know myself and my place in the world in the absence of that which was familiar and safe. I grew more during those seven days of camp than at any other point throughout the year. And I will always keep with me the special, magical feeling that came when, every evening, when the sky was black and brilliant with stars, I sat before the bright, crackling campfire, surrounded by other campers – my instant friends for the week. Before us stood the camp directors, one gently strumming a guitar, and the other leading us in our nightly song. Sometimes, when I close my eyes, seeking peace and comfort, I return to those nights, and that song, which guided us back through the woods to the safety of our cabins, where we would await another day, ready for the next day of adventure.

Peace I ask of thee o river,
Peace, peace, peace.
E’re I learn to live serenely,
Cares will cease.
From the hills I gather courage,
Visions of the day to be.
Strength to lead and strength to follow,
All are given unto me.
Peace I ask of thee o river,
Peace, peace, peace.

summer-camp-campfire

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Deep Fried Family Fun at the State Fair

It’s been ten years since I last visited the California State Fair. Which is kind of strange, I guess, since I live right next door to the state capitol. But here’s the problem: I hate going to the fair. Can’t stand it. Yes, I know, no one is supposed to hate the fair (or pizza, or kittens, or Easter…). Come on — the state fair. Cotton candy! Rides! Great exhibits! Family fun! What’s not to love, right?

Well, yesterday we took our kids to the state fair, since none of them could remember having been to one, and I am afraid that depriving them completely will destroy their childhood. And well, they had a terrific time.

Thanks to their enthusiasm, I didn’t entirely hate our time at the fair. In fact, some parts were kind of neat, like being able to handle sturgeons and crawdads in a touch pool, and enjoying the beauty of some gorgeous flower gardens. The county exhibits were also kind of interesting to look at, even though they were somewhat redundant. Also, despite the frightening amounts of deep-fried and bacon-infused cuisine, not all the food was completely disgusting. I actually enjoyed a great ear of roasted corn on the cob for lunch.

But still, it was sweltering hot outside, and after awhile, the crowds and noise became too much for this severe introvert. So my husband took the kids on rides while I found a quiet(ish), shady bench near a pond and immersed myself in a good book until it was time to leave.

“So how did you guys like the state fair?” I asked the kids as we hiked back to our car.

My youngest son frowned. “I only got to play one carnival game, because they cost too much.”

My daughter shrugged. “It was okay. I liked the ice cream and the snow cone, and one of the rides we went on.”

My oldest son also shrugged. “It would’ve been even better if we could have gone to the waterslide park.”

And that is what we got for $120 of family fun. So long, California State Fair! Maybe we’ll visit again in another ten years.

Not Your Typical Soccer Mom

I am definitely not your typical Sports Mom. Yes, my three kids are all involved in sports. And like plenty of other parents, I drive them to practice (yes, I confess it, in a minivan), pack on-the-go dinners, and cheer for them like crazy at games and meets. But I am not your everyday, ordinary soccer mom.

I am a soccer-soccer-soccer mom.

I love soccer. But I do not only love to watch my sons play. I also play soccer–on four different indoor teams at the moment. Yes, it is a sickness! But it is such a rush, and always an incredible workout.

I am also a huge fan of professional soccer. I know, I know…this is so un-American of me. Especially since my favorite team, Manchester United, is part of the English Premiere League.

"Chicharito" from Manchester United -- One of my favorite soccer players.

Or maybe I am actually a trend-setter, leading the charge of Americans rushing toward a sport that the rest of the world discovered long ago is the Best Sport Ever. They don’t call it the Beautiful Game for nothing.

My boys, who are 7 and 11-almost-12, play recreational soccer.

Soccer game day from August 2010

Sadly, neither one of them is particularly athletic. Yes, I love and accept them no matter where they excel or struggle. But I also confess: I am one of those awful sports parents who expected all of my kids to be coordinated and fast and aggressive little athletes, and sometimes it is painful for me to watch my sons play sports. Especially when my 7yo insists on chasing dragonflies across the soccer field instead of the ball (Really, kid? Come on–kick the darned ball! Please?) But the point is not for them to be soccer superstars. The point is for my kids to enjoy being active, to be part of a team, and to learn new skills.

Then there is my 10yo daughter.

Daughter at a Level 6 meet last spring

The polar opposite of her brothers, my daughter is a natural athlete. She competes on a Level 7 gymnastics team and pretty much lives at the gym, where she swings giants on the bar, flips handsprings and layouts across the floor, and breathes chalk dust 16 hours per week. She does all of this without complaint, despite sore muscles, lack of leisure time, and paper bag dinners four times per week.  If only I could be so dedicated! Well, I guess I am dedicated in the financial sense. This month, I spent around $1300 on my daughter’s sport (competition leotard, warmup sweats, new workout leotard, partial annual team fees, and tuition–approximately $275 per month!!!). Coming soon is competition season, during which I must be dedicated to lots of traveling, hotel expenses, and sitting on hard bleachers for hours every Saturday. But that’s what it takes to be a super Sports Mom. And for my kids, I am all in.