It starts with a spreadsheet. Every year, I compile a spreadsheet, set up formulas for auto-calculations, and start filling it in. Then, I create a color-coded calendar, one color for each child. Together, with my kids, I fill in both — budgeting and plotting the dates of each summer camp session. There’s a yearly camp budget. They know that. And then, once we’ve got the summer planned, I start the paperwork and payments.
Every year, we follow this procedure. But not this one.
This summer, despite being a working single mother who is still juggling work and childcare mid-pandemic, I am making the choice to keep my kids at home. Yes, still.
When COVID-19 came to Maine, school was shut down. The university course I was teaching moved to remote learning. My 9-to-5 job told employees to stay home. And since then, more than 3,400 people in our state have been sickened. In other states, the numbers are more severe.
Regardless, one thing had been clear: The novel coronavirus is a sickness that can move undetected between people while causing long-term damage to lungs, the heart and more. It’s not simple. There is no cure — yet. And although older people and those with preexisting conditions (like me) have a great risk, it can impact anyone of any age.
Faced with this knowledge, my kids aren’t going to camp this summer.
The decision was a challenging one to make. Day camps, some by the local parks and rec department, some by the Y, others by arts organizations, have provided my kids with summer childcare for years. With things changing rapidly and a breakneck work schedule, I hit pause on summer planning in early March — despite the fact I was running late on planning. Although I hoped things would resolve themselves in time for summer, as weeks progressed and it became April, it was clear that the pandemic wasn’t letting up.
No camp this year, I told my kids.
No camp this year, I told myself.
And all I felt was relief — a strange feeling as a working single mother.
For working parents, summer day camps are a lifeline that bridge the season between one school year and the next. Camps are what keep kids occupied and safe while parents work to earn the money needed to pay for the roof over our heads, food on our table, gas for our car and — yes — the camp itself.
To not have a patchwork of day camps scheduled and paid for any other year would have been a disaster. But this year — as I face an undetermined period of working from home — it seemed like a no brainer for us.
While I didn’t know what my kids would do without the structure of camp, I knew we’d figure it out. And though my work schedule wouldn’t change, we’d make it through without camp since I would, ultimately, be working at home. Other parents, ones whose jobs require their presence in a certain place, couldn’t do this. Their choice would be different.
In any case, I prepared: A small wading pool gives them space to cool off on hot days. Virtual music lessons give them something special to do each week. Art supplies, board and card games, bikes, a scooter and more ensure they have options for staying occupied. And there’s video games, texting with friends, cooking, managing our vegetable garden…
There’s even a small silver lining.
As a full-time working single mother, a summer with my kids was a fantasy I barely entertained. It was the hope that didn’t seem likely. Instead, I would just keep working every summer, fitting in time together after work and on weekends, and then send my kids off into the world in a few short years.
Every lunch together, every afternoon in the yard, every trip to our community garden plot is a chance to spend more time with them that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Every impromptu book we read or time spent kicking around a soccer ball is time that shouldn’t have been ours. Every unexpected lesson on everything from cooking to managing finances is something that might never have unrolled for us, if we weren’t home together all the time.
Childhood is fleeting. My 12- and 14-year-olds are hurtling toward adulthood, grasping at self-sufficiency and growing in mind and body all the time. As parents, we expect to let go as they grow.
But we don’t want to, do we?
Grateful for this gift of time, I have to admit that working from home isn’t a panacea for parenting. It’s challenging. There are times when my kids want or need my attention, but I need to meet a work deadline. Sometimes it gets loud in the house when I need quiet. And there are struggles: like convincing my kids to do something active outside when they are content to practice their instruments, read or otherwise enjoy the cool of inside.
But none of that is insurmountable. And my kids have learned more about what I do and how I do it by watching me work — something that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.
This has happened at a time when I can work at home — and when my kids are at an age of self-sufficiency, but still enjoy my company. It’s the perfect storm of opportunity to have more lunches together, more afternoon bike rides, more everything.
So I know I am lucky in this and, in a way, I am grateful. I’ve been given the unexpected gift of time and health. I’m glad to keep my kids home this summer.
But we all also look forward to the promise of next summer, when the running camps, theatre camps, outdoor adventure camps and travel camps will surely return.
Here’s what to do with your kids instead of summer camp this year.