I just took my son to camp. He’s going away for four weeks to a Spanish immersion program. He’ll pledge to speak only Spanish at all times, save for a break before dinner where he can call his parents. I don’t expect he’ll be doing that, because at the moment, he hates us.
When I was a kid growing up in Michigan, very few families sent their kids to camp. Summer was all about riding bikes and playing flashlight tag and eating bomb pops. Every day was full of possibility, and time was generous. We’d get tanned and healthy and tired out enough to start school again in the fall. I’d love my son to have that kind of summer. He’d love that kind of summer. That kind of summer does not exist anymore.
Summer is about enrichment now. Kids go to computer camps and elite sports camps, or they have second homes where they spend their vacation time. There isn’t an army of children to run around with just outside our door. If my son had his choice, he’d hole up in the basement and play video games until his clothes sprouted mushrooms. That is not an option.
We’ve avoided the competitive parenting mosh pit for most of his childhood. He hasn’t been overly scheduled and we’ve let him choose the activities that he’s interested in. I would have loved for him to take up music, my husband wishes they could tinker on electronics together, but neither of those is in the cards. He likes sports, but he’s non-competitive. No one plays pick up games anymore, which is a pity. But as he gets closer and closer to college, we’ve started to push.
When I applied for college, if you had good grades a couple of activities, you were golden. Now, colleges want to see Advanced Placement courses, and 4.0+ grade points. They want examples of leadership and commitment. Above average is the new average, and no one wants an average kid. When did this happen?
My son says he goes to school and does what he’s supposed to. He’s got great grades. He does his homework without prodding or nagging. He’s polite and well-behaved. He’s socially adept. He says that should be enough. He wants to come home and do nothing. He has a point. Unfortunately, we can’t let him do that. Not if we ever want him to move out of the house.
Every summer, he has to do something meaningful. Anything. Spanish is his toughest class, so this is what we settled on. He participated in the decision. He talked to students who’d been in the program, so he knows what he signed up for, but he doesn’t want to go away for four weeks of his summer.
What I can’t tell him is that I wish he didn’t have to go, too. Yes, it will be nice to have four weeks to work on my novel and spend time alone with my husband. I may have one of those post-disaster clean up crews come and sanitize his bathroom, but I will also miss him every single day. This is the new reality, and I am the enforcer, so I try not to let the glares and the silence get to me. If he senses any hesitation on my part, he’ll turn screws. I am the weak link and both my husband and son know it.
I didn’t want him going in committed to hating camp just to spite us. I told him that punishing us did not require that he be miserable. He could go, enjoy himself, take advantage of what the camp had to offer, and just tell me and his father than it was a fate worse than death to preserve his cred.
He told me that when he comes home, he will speak exclusively in Spanish. Guess I better get a translator. No one said being an enforcer would be easy. However, I did notice quite a few girls checking in at the same time we were. I suspect he did too. Maybe he won’t be so miserable after all. That part, he can keep to himself.
Words by J. B. Everett