New York City is crazy for camp. From late June to early September, “Are you doing any camps?” is the second question parents ask each other on the playground (the first, the obvious “Are you getting out of the city?”). The popularity of camp speaks in large part to New Yorkers’ dual child-rearing goals: 1) keep ‘em occupied and 2) ABE: always be enriching.
Pretty much any structured activity for kids counts as “camp” in these parts. There’s of course the camp archetype, sleepaway camp, where the kids pile into buses and go to some remote mountainous region for weeks at a time. Camps need not dislocate youth, though. Charlotte participated in a delightful one-week theater camp in Prospect Park earlier this summer. Some camps last only a day. I’m considering an ice cream truck camp for the remainder of August ($50).
We have mixed feelings about camp. There are obvious benefits. Kids get to experience things that the schools won’t or can’t provide them; parents get a breather while the kids are off experiencing.
The downside is that a summer filled with camp is a summer that is totally structured. These are the only two months of the year in which Charlotte even has an opportunity to be bored. (It occurs to me that school will present its own brand of highly structured boredom soon, perhaps sooner than I think.) Preventing boredom seems like it would be a good thing, but I worry that a summer full of camps will condition her to depend totally on others to structure her time. That seems unhealthy—we want her to imagine her way out of boredom.
Apart from the week I mentioned, we haven’t done camp this summer. Charlotte’s spent the summer with friends and toys and, occasionally, boredom. That is, until Craig and Wink visited this week and asked her if she wanted to spend the night with them. She jumped at the chance. For three nights in a row, she went off to her friend’s house (where Craig & Wink were staying while her friend’s family vacated) for a sleepover. These were her first nights away from us. It was the closest thing to sleepaway camp she’s gotten and it was a little disconcerting how easily she handled it.
Each night, Mags and I parted ways with the three of them at Park and Vanderbilt around 8:30 or so. Charlotte, holding hands with one or both grandparents, would turn around and wave as they walked toward Park Slope, until she couldn’t see us. Wilder would be asleep by the time we walked home and the apartment would feel eerily empty, quiet except for the hum of the air conditioner. It sounded like life after kids. A little too close for comfort.
On Wednesday morning, I left for work before Charlotte came home. After only three nights away, I was surprised the extent to which I missed Charlotte’s presence in the apartment, even just overnight. But I was growing used to it. “Tell Charlotte Dad says ‘hi,’” I said before I went. It was a little joke but also a touch sad and it struck me that it was exactly the sort of thing I expected to say in future summers as camp comes calling.