Fun And Pitfalls Of Camping It Up


August 08, 1993|By KEVIN THOMAS

My kids' big performance last weekend marked the end of another ritual that my family and hundreds of others endure in Howard County each summer.

As the school year winds down, the hunt begins for the right day care, summer camp, enrichment program or sports academy. With the county's Parks and Recreation department, the Columbia Association and private providers vying for dollars, the choices seem limitless.

There seem to be more activities than children to do them. And for doting parents, many with big purses, numerous factors must be considered. This is when the panic sets in. Did I sign the kids up for enough activities, or too many? How will I pay for it all? What if the little rug rats don't want to go?

These are weighty decisions in the Land of Many Indulgences, but we persevere. In my family's case, we have children who, as in many households, chose to have different personalities. One leans toward sports, the other toward the arts, which pretty much eliminates the possibility of family discounts. It also complicates what is already the most difficult aspect of all this: how to get them there on time.

Don't let the fact that we keep a running calendar deceive anyone. A lot of these decisions get made as the witching hour approaches. It would be worse still if these matters were left to me -- the family procrastinator. My wife takes charge and somehow sees us through it all.

But even she looks with amazement and envy on the "super-moms" in our community, who have all the details worked out months in advance along with car-pooling arrangements and what the kids are going to eat for lunch.

By the way, car-pooling is not a complex problem. The car is king in Howard County. Someone you know is bound to be going your way and networks develop quickly to save beleaguered moms just one more trip. The only danger is the prospect of leaving a neighbor's kid behind when it's your turn to pick up.

There are numerous other pitfalls, however. A child's attitude has to be considered. Psyches are tested by summer camp.

My son, who loves soccer, refuses to go to soccer camp because they are usually all day and outside in the hot sun. This attitude emerged three years ago when he started at soccer camp on the hottest day of the summer and came home with strep throat and a fever of 103 degrees.

We finally settled on half-day tennis lessons, which was fine for our son, whose main criterion is that the game involve a ball.

But not everyone at tennis camp was so enchanted. One trio of girls soloathed the experience that they spent most of their time bitterly complaining and lobbing the ball at one another. They all lived for 12:01 p.m. on Friday, when camp ended and life could begin again.

Still, summer camp holds great potential for a child's growth -- even if sometimes the growth isn't quite what the parents expected.

My daughter went to drama camp this summer and, in addition to her thespian studies, developed an unexpected interest in boys and make-up.

We didn't just find out about this suddenly. It came to light the way you'd expect an eight-year-old to reveal such things. She told her brother to tell us about the boy she liked at camp and how many girlfriends he had and how many boyfriends she had, and whether they should hug each other.

These are the kinds of things that will make the hairs on a parent's neck stand up. We knew the middle schoolers in her camp were having their impact when we woke one morning to the sounds of our daughter rummaging through my wife's cosmetics searching for blush. We had to assure her that no other eight-year-olds were wearing base and mascara.

It's all part of the summer camp experience. Which brings us to last weekend's big performance, which is part of the reason we go through this every year.

My son had his tennis tournament, at which he did his own cheerleading, shouting for spectators to come closer to get a better look at his skills on the court. He lost in the final round, But he learned how to talk trash, as he puts it. And for a moment, he got to shine a little brighter than he had before.

My daughter, meanwhile, chose to be a T-Bird in her drama camp's adaptation of the musical "Grease." She got to wear her makeup -- eye shadow and all.

And while there could have been 200 kids on that stage, only one was a star. Mine. Undoubtedly, all the other parents were thinking the same thing about theirs.

Kevin Thomas is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

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