My Summer (Camp) Guide

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

My wife and I scheduled our kids - Liam, 6, and Maggie, 4 - for a bunch of camps this summer. Some are half days; others are full days. Some Maggie and Liam can take together; others they're separated by the two-year age difference.

Registering for all those camps is a hair-pulling process that I leave mostly to my wife, Kate, who emerged from the womb with planner in hand. Sometimes, though, what make sense on paper becomes absurd in reality. We learned last year that it's in no one's best interest to put one kid in nature camp at Highbanks Metro Park up north the same week another kid has a COSI camp with a similar start time downtown. Never have I cursed U.S. Route 23 as much as I did that week.

We do summer camps because they're a great way to keep the kids' brains and limbs active - particularly Liam, whose uncontainable energy becomes more gnat-like the greater the time span between scheduled activities. But like many working parents, the camps are also a practical necessity. While my writer gig is a part-time thing, I rely heavily on the 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. window to get words on the page and interviews on tape. In the summer, those school days have to be manufactured somehow.

With all those camps and a couple weeks of vacation, just about every day of summer has now been scheduled, which makes it easier to know how many assignments I can take on before the fall. But the copious pre-ordained blocks of time also can strip summer of its … summery-ness. My best memories of summer don't involve camps. I think of playing baseball with neighbors and making a fort in the woods and running everywhere without ever getting winded.

Our family has a lot of traditions in the winter, particularly around the holidays. We read from an Advent book in December and go to Oakland Nursery as a family to pick out our tree. (Every year I try to convince Kate that our tree doesn't need to touch the ceiling.) We light the fireplace almost nightly. Kate makes chai tea. I make an Old-Fashioned.

But we have very few summertime traditions. Other than hosting a big bash to celebrate our family's summer milestones (three birthdays and an anniversary), regular strolls to Jeni's for ice cream and the occasional creek walk, the season is a hodgepodge of weeklong educational camps. I feel a little guilty about this. Of all seasons, summer is the let's-figure-it-out-as-we-go time of year. That's the idealized, Rockwellian version in my head, at least.

Fortunately, the kids won't be in full-day camps every day. We've got afternoons, evenings, weekends. We'll make time for running through sprinklers and climbing trees in the backyard. Maybe we'll join a pool. Whatever the extracurriculars, I'm going to resist the temptation to schedule them on certain days in the family calendar. It's summer vacation, after all.

-Joel Oliphint is a freelance writer and a camp-shuttling, bourbon-loving dad.