In a few hours, we leave to drop Emily off at summer camp. It’s her third year there, and she already feels like two weeks really isn’t quite long enough. She just loves it, the constant structure and stimulation and enforced friendships, and getting the chance to be herself on her own terms, instead of being around family and friends with whom she has a history. Not that shared history is a bad thing, mind you, but she is a creature of reinvention who just adores the idea of a new audience for her sense of humor and drama.
It’s an expensive thing, which was a problem for us this year, given the combination of my unemployment and Willem’s grad-school TA stipend not quite being adequate to support a family of four on the day-to-day stuff, much less the extras. But Uncle Sam came through just in time, and we were able to apply our tax refund to what I consider to be a childhood necessity – at least for this child – and all is well. Emily understands that it’s expensive, and we had to have some long talks, early in the year, about how we might not be able to afford to send her for the full two-week session, etc. She tried helping by saving up her allowance, and she did learn a lesson in finance; it takes a long time to build up enough dimes to cover a $400/week summer camp stay.
She was, of course, thrilled that we were able to afford it, and I’m happy to report that she doesn’t seem to be carrying around a sense of guilt or unease about it. I want my kids to grow up with an understanding of money and commerce, but I don’t want them to feel guilty when the things they want (or need) are expensive. “Expensive” doesn’t need to be a bad word, it’s just a term of measurement that we need to acknowledge and plan for.
In one of our conversations, we talked about how much happiness and fun she gets out of camp, and that makes it worth the extra expense. She thought about this for a moment, and then said, “And also, Mom, there’s a special thing there, where if you go to the same camp for five years, you get a free t-shirt!”
Well… OK, but seeing as how we’re spending about $800 a year on this, that kind of actually means that her free t-shirt will cost $4,000. In my book, “$4,000” does not equal “free” – but I didn’t feel the need to share that logic with her.
So, soon enough, she’ll be off to put in the third installation payment on her free t-shirt. She’s been packed for a week, and is just beside herself with excitement.
And I’m doing what I can to remain placid and positive and supportive, because I do believe that summer camp is a good thing for children and I’m happy that she’s happy there… so I try hard not to show her just how anxiety-riddled and scared I am, every time we drop her off. She’s had two wonderful, fun trips there, and I won’t take that away from her. I just want her to be safe and happy while she’s there, without me to immediately protect her from every possible threat… is that so much to ask?