Dear Day Camp,
Hi. I want to say right off the bat that we are cool. I like and need you. Because you take my complicated, sensitive kid every day and then she comes home later and she did things and she was safe and happy. You must be doing something right.
But I have a request. Please, please be a true partner to working parents and stop with the crazy hat days. Or, more realistically, go crazy with crazy hat days and any other silly accessories—I’ll even donate that questionable furry purple stole thing that keeps falling on me when I try to get stuff out of the top of my closet—but please don’t make it another to-do for me.
Because no matter how may e-mail reminders you send during the days leading up to these cute spirit activities, it is a mathematical certainty that some of us just won’t be able to get it done and our children will be left out, wondering why their parents overlooked them. For all the articles about the invisible mental load—this one is not invisible at all and it needs to be addressed.
Crazy hat day is, “Hey, let’s see if moms can handle another thing day.” Well, today I couldn’t. And I don’t need to see the sad photos to know that many other moms (and dads) couldn’t, either.
Today wasn’t a surprise. I knew crazy hat day was today. At least three days ago, I saw the e-mail pop up as I was responding to the latest mid-day text from a caregiver in between meetings at work, asking about someone’s eczema cream or where the velcro shoes were. I knew somewhere in my brain that my 5-year-old would go to camp today and if she didn’t have a crazy hat packed in her bag, she would arrive and feel slighted and left out when all the other kids produced their lovingly packed crazy hats. And I still couldn’t get it done.
Not because I didn’t want to. But because my brain, and my partner’s brain, simply ran out of RAM to keep it on the to-do list. Or maybe we simply ran out of time. As two practicing attorneys with two children, every single day is an exercise in triage, all day, at work and at home. It is difficult to even find the time to register for camp—which we rely on as a critical piece of our childcare in the summer months. And then to get the health records in. And label the clothes. And find a way to ensure that no one goes into camp without sunblock on. None of these tasks, individually, seems too daunting but for parents who work literally around the clock, they are collectively oppressive. We get them done (just barely and only because my husband is aces) because if you want camp, you get the vaccine records in—that is non-negotiable for safety. No issue there.
But what about all the extra stuff. Why is that on me/us? (I am lucky, I think, that my partner even feels responsible for these extra assignments—I suspect most mothers are on their own. There’s definitely data on that.)
The point is, we pay good money to have our children loved and safely cared for during the day and then we do all the things to make sure they can attend, and then we set up the system for the various supplies and accoutrements to go with them in the camp routine, and for someone to be home when they get off the bus, and all that jazz.
Is it too much to ask not to be handed nearly-daily extra assignments that are ultimately just more opportunities for us to drop the ball? Because we will. I will.
Sure, I could have spent some of the two whole hours I had free on Sunday locating or shopping for a “crazy” hat. But those are the only two hours I had to actually spend time with my babies whom I love and try hard not to disappoint when I can avoid it. I chose to use that time to bathe them, make them terrible grilled cheese (you use butter on the inside and outside, right?) and do bedtime with them—which is only even an option for me two days per week.
However, in choosing to spend the time that way, I was also, subconsciously, making a choice to screw my kid at camp today. And that just sucks.
Unfortunately, disappointing my children is part and parcel with my existence as a working mother. I often have to do other things when they want (and need) my attention and love. Work things. That are necessary for our livelihood.
But it doesn’t make sense that I am paying others to manufacture more opportunities for disappointments. I have gotten very good at letting my children down all on my own—and for free. I want—no, I need—the others in the village I have constructed to help me rear my children with love and safety to minimize those opportunities for sadness and let-downs, not add to them.
Please dont get me wrong. I am not down on camp. I loved it as a child, and I get why they do all these fun spirit things. My kids are enjoying their experiences at camp and I am sincerely grateful for the peace of mind it affords me in knowing that my kids are safe, living, and happy when I cannot be with them because we have a mortgage.
But few things are as crushing to a mother, who is killing herself to pay the bills and also find some time to actually sit with her children and love them in person, to see a photo of my daughter watching quietly from the side while the other kids revel in front of the camera with their crazy hats.
When I saw it posted on social media, I wanted to run out of my office and drive to camp and hug her, and explain to her that she isn’t an oversight. That I don’t not care about sending her to camp with the right stuff. I care so much.
Please, camp. Help me not fail at this one. I’m not asking you to cancel crazy hat day or whatever other crazy days are coming up that require supplies. It looks like great fun for the kids whose mothers (and fathers) managed to get it together.
But I AM asking you to understand that I got home after 1 a.m. last night and I didn’t see my children this morning either and under the current set-up, I simply don’t stand a chance.
My household cannot take on any more things and we need you to be a real partner in our children’s happiness, not working against us (knowingly or not).
And if that means we pay a little more for camp and you take that cash and send out a counselor to buy whatever colored shirts shirts or arm bands you need to stick in a closet somewhere so that I never have to see that look on my daughter’s face in a camp photo—where she wonders why I have failed her again—I will gladly do so.
I’ll make the same plea to my kids’ teachers in September, too. I’m happy to contribute extra up front—I hereby authorize you to spend all of it on trips and party snacks to avoid breaking my child’s soul and my heart at 2 p.m. on a random Tuesday.
Also, while I’m focused on this. Please put me down now for all of the 8:15 PM parent-teacher conference slots and Grandma is coming to all the parties at 11:15 a.m. Sounds funny but she’s really coming to all of those. I may not even meet you this year. And not because I don’t want to.