To all my friends I haven’t spoken with in two months, I’m sorry. For all the coffee dates I’ve missed, believe me; I wish I could have made them. It’s not my intention to disappear each year from June to August to transform into a taxi driver, chef, and personal assistant to three children. But somehow, summer is ending, and I realize it’s happened again.
I find myself unable to pinpoint the moment this all started. But sometime after years of listening to my kids complain about camps, I gave in. Now instead of camp, my kids participate in summer activities. My son sails. My oldest lives at the gymnastics gym. All three kids swim. In between, our house is their home base. Camp Mom.
As the primary caretaker for my kids, I know I am blessed. Not everyone has the opportunity to keep their kids home during the summer. Many parents need childcare. Many kids love summer camp. But over the past four years, Camp Mom has become our tradition.
And now, every day, the garden hose coils around our backyard like a snake, connected to an old sprinkler that looks like a cow. The garage has become a clubhouse, home to bikes and scooters and a pop-up tent I finally banned from the family room after too many fights about it blocking the TV.
Every afternoon our house echoes with the thump of towels in the dryer as they spin around in circles, the lint drawer filling with sand and tiny pebbles from poolside mornings, and backyard Slip ‘N Slide sessions. Every evening our house echoes with the slamming of cabinets as summer desserts are pulled out and lined up on the counter. Ice cream cones and sprinkles, graham crackers, and marshmallows.
Bedtimes wash over us like the tide, drifting a little later each day, pushing wake-up times dangerously close to the start of morning swim team. Whenever the phone rings, I answer, “Sorry, I’m in the car!” and then spend ten minutes apologizing for being unavailable for any activity except ferrying my kids around town.
Nonessential projects are put on hold. Like the manuscript for my new novel, drafted and partially edited, the remainder waiting for fall. Dishes collect in the sink until we run out of forks. I break down and clean half before running out to another pick-up time. More work happens at night as I watch my kids’ swim meets.
Once a week, I drag all three children to the grocery store. In the checkout line, my eyes bulge along with the cashier’s when they announce the grand total.
“Looks like you have food for a month!” they say.
Two nights later, my kids circle the pantry like vultures, searching for scraps.
“Where does the food go?” I ask my husband. “What do they eat during the school year?”
“Peanut butter,” he says, pointing to the untouched jar.
It sits there shiny and covered in its plastic seal, a beacon in a storm of ripped-apart packages. It turns out Camp Mom is a break from the rigidity of packed lunches, too.
So I try not to scream at the popsicle sticks that magically float out of the trash. At the piles of wrappers that collect on the coffee table.
Every night when I crawl into bed, my legs tingle, my muscles unused to so many hours without sitting down. All around me, loads of unfolded laundry beckon. As does the gas tank, perpetually empty from so much driving. And each morning, I reach not for my sneakers but my flip flops, my once-regular runs now squeezed into the crevices of my day.
There is no “me” in Camp Mom, at least not for the mom running it.
Of course, this rule doesn’t apply to my kids, who spend hours complaining about who got the bigger ice cream cone, picked out more snacks, or got to watch the most shows on TV. I try to stay calm as they bicker, to let them work out problems on their own. Sometimes it works. More often, I hear my voice rising as I walk out of the room, head in my phone, desperate to find a camp, any camp, that will take them so I can return to my writing, my schedule, and my productive life of the school year.
But then the sea recedes. My oldest kids hide candy in our yard and tell our youngest fairies left it. Again I am sucked into the magic of Camp Mom. Those ten exhausting, unstructured weeks where my children’s brains can wander. Where their creativity and spirits can soar.
And I realize maybe Camp Mom isn’t as unproductive as it seems. Maybe these are the weeks when my kids actually learn the most. Not just about how to sail or swim but about life. How to act. How to share. How to shape boredom into something beautiful. An art project. A clean room. A game of make-believe that spans seven hours.
Sure, Camp Mom is exhausting. And come September, I will be thankful for our schedule. But part of me will also mourn the end of another summer. Next year they’ll be older. Next summer, they might ask for camp over Mom.