Juggling hectic summer plans Camp crazy: Remember those long, lazy days of summer? If you're part of a two-career family trying to pick the right camp and set up the travel and day-care schedules, forget it.

April 01, 1996|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

At kitchen tables from Towson to Columbia, it's the season of panic for working parents as they eye the end of the school year and scramble to plan their children's summer days. Programs are expensive, fill up fast and rarely span typical work hours.

If arranging summer schedules doesn't seem like a big deal, consider the plight of Marla Jassen.

The Ellicott City podiatrist and her husband, Joseph Mosca, a research scientist, have been weighing the options for more than a month. Art camp and dance camp for their daughter? Baseball and basketball for their son? Some camps last a week, some two, some a month.

Where are their playmates going, how will they get there (and back), and what's the cost? Many camps end in midafternoon, an obvious scheduling dilemma for parents who can't leave their jobs. Can they find an afternoons-only sitter? And where do you fit in time for family vacation?

"It's a lot of pressure," Dr. Jassen said. "I don't want someplace that's just a baby-sitting service. It should be something they want to do where they'll get something out of it."

Dr. Jassen's problem is felt all over the country. Fewer than 10 percent of two-parent American families include one parent who stays home with the children.

"Both my husband and I have full-time jobs," said Dr. Jassen's neighbor, Marla McIntosh, associate dean for the University of Maryland College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

"Having our kids occupied over the summer and happy over the summer is a real top priority," said Aaron Thompson, a University of Missouri sociologist in workplace and family issues. "Overall, parents are panicking."

Cost is an obstacle for many. "It's not uncommon at all to see parents spending somewhere around $250 to $300 per child -- at the low end; you go up from there," he said.

JoAnn Copes of Baltimore counts herself among the parents who are "tearing our hair out." One summer she enrolled her two sons in more than a half-dozen camps. Only with help from her computer could she make sense of the tangled schedules.

"I had a whole chart developed so we wouldn't lose track," said Ms. Copes, Baltimore County's manager of housing opportunities. "It was just like 'Who's on first.' Some days I think it wasn't meant to be this way."

For people who run camps, the results have been gratifying. Community recreation centers, private schools and professional athletes offer programs in Maryland by the hundreds. Special newspapers and magazines listing camps run into the dozens of pages and are packed with options: computers, sign language, martial arts, cooking, magic and science camps; kayaking, spelunking and rock climbing; and lots of soccer, baseball and basketball.

But demand still exceeds supply.

The Columbia Association received more than 500 summer camp applications on its opening days of registration last month.

Applications have even arrived via overnight express as parents pull out all the stops to enroll their children, said Donna Grant, the association's camp coordinator. Already, she is bracing for the inevitable storms from those who get shut out.

"People get very upset because their kids want to go," she said. "We have tears and anger. It amazes me that someone would spend $10 [on overnight express] to get this in. Somehow, they feel it will be treated in a special manner."

It won't.

"We're swamped with mail and phone calls at this point; it's competitive," she said.

"We have 69 recreation centers, each with summer fun camps, and they fill up quickly," said Cheryl Jordan, Baltimore's assistant director of recreation and parks. "We're getting requests even now. By the first of May, a lot will be filled."

Said Bob Brandenburger, recreation supervisor in Anne Arundel County: "Some of our summer playground programs are already filled, and our Quiet Waters Day Camp is just about filled. This year we started sign-ups in mid-March because parents say they need to know now."

The number of day camps nationally has nearly doubled in the past 15 years, according to the American Camping Association. Teen-agers represent a growing segment of that enrollment.

"Parents are looking for programs that will give their kids a leg up in dealing with the pressures of being a young person -- programs that build self-esteem, teamwork, personal growth and development," said Bob Schultz of the American Camping Association, which accredits camps nationwide.

"Even for parents who can afford it, I think a downside to these regimented programs is that kids aren't relaxing at all," said Dr. Thompson, of the University of Missouri. "In other words, they never really disconnect. They need time to play."

No question, says Dr. Jassen. And she tries to build free time into their days.

"I see them getting frazzled," she said. "But when you have two working parents, they've had structured schedules since they were born. I think that's just the way it is with working parents."

Nostalgic reminiscences of leisurely summer days seem lost on today's children. They're used to busy schedules. And many children say they'd probably be bored at home.

Why settle for neighborhood kickball when you can take lessons from former Blast goalkeeper Keith Van Eron? Why climb the tree in your back yard if you can be roping into the crevasse of a cave?

Ms. McIntosh recalls her childhood summers in suburban Chicago -- days of riding bikes, jumping rope and going to the pool. She appreciates the need for down time and tries to relax the summer schedules of her 11-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son.

But her children say the kind of summer their mother enjoyed as a child doesn't sound all that appealing.

"I think I like it better the way I have it," says her daughter, Jessie. "There's more to do -- I think I'd rather be more hectic."

Pub Date: 4/01/96

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