Whenever I tell people I’m from Maine, someone inevitably replies, “I went to summer camp there!” I love that response because it’s always something that people associate with a happy time – a carefree summer with lots of games, crafts, sports, and whatever else you do at summer camp. I never actually went to sleepaway camp, but it sounds great. Our summers were equally happy, if less structured.
My parents have 4 kids (and now a lot of grandkids) and my dad worked full-time, so they weren’t about to start playing camp counselor. They were also the OG sandwich generation – back when you just lived with your family, which might include multiple generations, and didn’t need a label for it. My grandmother lived with us my whole life growing-up, which is something I will always treasure. It’s also something I hadn’t thought too much about until I found myself in a sandwich-generation living situation during this pandemic and realized my mother must have far more patience than I give her credit for if she managed 20 years under the same roof as her mother-in-law; I’m way past my breaking point and I’m still counting in months, not years.
Given our set-up and large family, as you can imagine, there was a lot of what would today be called ‘independent play’ – aka my mom said go play, and we did. We did a lot of different things to entertain ourselves. We painted rocks and tried to sell them (not exactly the ‘get rich quick’ scheme we had hoped for). We wrote, directed, and starred-in many plays, which consistently performed to a packed house of stuffed-animals. We played office, library and our favorite – hotel, using travel toiletries from dad’s work trips (no one said we were cool). We fought a decent amount and my parents rarely intervened, so we also learned how to end-it and move on. We taught ourselves a lot of new skills, mostly unsuccessfully, like the time I told my little sister I definitely knew how to cut us an apple for snack and just about took my left thumb off.
The point is, we got bored. Then we got creative. Then we got bored again. And that was genuinely OK. Arguably probably even good. At a bare minimum, I can tell you from my small sample size that all of my siblings are healthy adults who are not upset with my parents for the lack of pinterest inspired summer activities.
We’re coming up on the 4th July, a weekend that really kicks-off summer. We’re also looking at rising COVID cases in many states, extended work from home periods, canceled or changed camp schedules, and prolonged child care closures. Many working parents, already stretched to their limits and then some, are now wondering how they’ll become camp director in addition to everything else. Lest we forget, that’s usually a paid position for a reason. Should you want inspiration, there are instagram accounts, websites, and blogs full of more arts+crafts projects than an entire camp could get through in a summer. If you want to go that route, godspeed. But also know it’s OK not to, and you won’t be alone.
Earlier this spring, the American Psychological Association conducted a poll on stress and found that in April 46% of adults with kids said their stress level was extremely high. That number jumped to 70% at the beginning of June, with 60% saying they don’t know how they’ll keep kids busy all summer. That’s not run-of-the-mill ‘I need make it a perfect summer’ stress. That is extreme stress and exhaustion that impacts health, careers, and family. It is a stress we need to be aware of and try to minimize.
What to do this summer is a question that has come up repeatedly on Kunik in the past few weeks. It’s a valid question, it’s also one I’m not sure we really need to answer. Maybe the answer is simply, ‘not much’. During my parenting shift this morning I read ‘Pout Pout Fish’ at least 10 times; safe to say, we both got bored. Then I answered emails while he played with the closet organization bins I bought over a month ago and have yet to use (ah, quarantine productivity dreams). Of course, different kids require different levels of both supervision and entertainment – at 1, mine doesn’t require a lot of creative play-time, but as a new member of the walking club, he definitely requires supervision and has the bruises to prove it.
Clearly, most of us are overwhelmed, overworked, and overtired. So the answer to saving summer might be, you won’t. And that will be OK. Now seems like the perfect time to decide not to do things, whether that’s cooking 3 meals a day or planning an unending, exhausting itinerary of activities for the next few weeks. As we head into the summer, let’s let kids embrace the boredom. And not feel guilty about it.