Instead Of Camp, I'm Giving My Kids An '80s Throwback Summer

The Pandemic Has Forced Us To Overhaul Our Summer Plans — My Kids Are Ridiculously Excited

June 9, 2020 Updated May 8, 2021

scrapped-together-summer-1
Scary Mommy and Constance Bannister Corp/Getty

The universe is laughing very hard at all of us who banged our heads against our calendars a few months ago in the still cold and slushy months of late winter in anticipation of meeting the deadline for summer camp registration.

I thought I knew what my summer would look like in February. I am one of the parents who grin and bear the heavy cost of summer day camps each summer—nearly $6,000 a year to send my three kids to camp for 10 weeks. My oldest is nine and my twins are almost seven and they can’t be unattended all day or for more than 30 minutes. (Or three minutes, on some days.)

Work just can’t get done when they are awake. As a freelancer and small business owner, if I don’t work, I don’t get paid. To save some money this year, my ex and I decided a mix of camps and a teenage babysitter would be the way to go. I almost hurt myself by patting my own back for my good planning and wicked smarts.

Then the booming narrator voice took over and told the audience what a fool I had been. Like a poorly-timed wave at a sports stadium with drunken participants, the coronavirus flowed over the United States and all went to shit.

Summer breaks are hard enough on parents, especially working parents. This extension of time home in our new coronavirus normal while trying to work and deal with the hot temperatures and limited options for escape is going to be long, if nothing else. Depending on where you live, camps and daycare options may be available; whether they’re actually safe is a whole other issue. But many of us have either received notice that summer plans are cancelled or have had to cancel because of health risks or financial burden. Camps are stupid expensive, but many of us can’t stop working or flex our schedules for three months out of the year. It’s not good for business relationships, mental health, or the bank account. You hear the menacing laughter too, right? The pandemic has added a new layer of stress and fear for everyone as summer approaches, and parents are scrambling right now. Fine, Universe! I’ll pivot!

Here’s the upside: I have the privilege to work at night, but as our state starts to open up, I will be able to work out of the home again with new safety precautions in place. I am still banking on a trusted helper, but nothing is certain and I have conceded that everything is tentative. Also, most employers are in the same boat. I am thankful for understanding bosses and clients.

Here’s the downside: Kids are loud AF during all of their moods. And messy. It’s like a fucking ticker tape parade around here and no matter what someone always ends up bloody. I swear that assignment is on its way, Boss! And it’s not like my kids can take their nose bleeds somewhere else. Playgrounds, pools, air conditioned play spaces, and theaters will be closed or too risky to visit. Our little street, nature walks (or as my kids call them, ‘not another stupid nature walk’), and the backyard are our summer stomping grounds.

Family going on vacation loading station wagon
Dennis Hallinan/Getty

So I did what my instincts told me to do and went to Amazon and searched “toys that will entertain my kids for eight hours while I work.” The game Simon popped up, and the movie Sahara starring Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz. I refined my search. I also justified the expenses I was about to make on the money I am not paying on camps, summer sports, haircuts, pool passes or whatever else we used to do before we became people who roamed half naked and forgot how to interact with 3-D humans we don’t live with.

I dug deep into my memories as a kid who summered in the ’80s. The sprinkler, bikes, and scooters are in working order. To round out the activities, I ordered sidewalk chalk, super soakers, a hammock, and a new basketball net. And with little regret, I purchased a 10×30 inch inflatable pool for the backyard which includes a pump and apparently the need to add chlorine tabs. I will probably be able to keep water from turning green. While this mini swimming pool won’t allow for much actual swimming, it will be better and more refreshing than the plastic baby pool we have now, which usually turns into grass and dirt soup within minutes. The kids can pretend the new pool is their private hot tub at a fancy resort.

Speaking of fancy, I added Fla-Vor-Ice pops to the grocery list. White bread and mayonnaise sandwiches will round out the menu.

My kids are ridiculously excited about all of this. While my schedule may be torn to shreds, theirs is looking the way I suppose it should. They wake up when their bodies say it’s time instead of me dragging them out of bed before they are ready, which is still by 7:00 or 7:30 a.m. on most days, so don’t be too jealous. They play for a bit, have breakfast when they are ready, and then watch cartoons. Once screens are off they do what kids do: they play, fight, giggle, eat all of the food, go in and out of the house 90 billion times and listen to me scream to shut the door until it’s time to watch more cartoons.

The house is a wreck and smells like sweaty feet, and I am all the way set with cleaning crumbs off of the floor 15 times a day to keep ants away. Yet, the longer I settle into what is going to be a scraped together summer, the more okay I am with it because my kids are at peace. They want to be home and I am thankful I can make that happen even if it makes my life more stressful. I will breathe and remember I am not alone. We are all doing our best to keep these sinking ships afloat. Let’s not get complacent though. Keep your fingers crossed that murder hornets are not followed by assassination squirrels and that the aliens in those UFOs turned around after realizing our mess is not something they want to deal with.

Cheers to the pandemic-themed dumpster fire that will probably end up turning my kids’ summer into their best one yet.