"But what if I don’t want to go?" our daughter asks plaintively, looking up with eyes simultaneously filled with hope and resignation. "Do I have to go?"
In April, the note explained she’d been recommended for a special summer camp, focusing on literacy and math skills. It would give her an extra boost when she returned in the fall. Her teacher stressed this would increase her confidence. As a school board member, I’d heard all the evidence about avoiding the summer slide. I’d personally approved the expenditures for this; the administration has presented direct evidence of the results of this camp. There is no cost to the families, either.
Most importantly for me, as a parent, I knew that keeping her away from the TV required far too much diligence on my part. Last summer was a constant battle, and I didn’t want to go through it again.
So, as parents, we didn’t think twice. We signed her up. We added her summer camp to overall list of obligations for these "carefree summer weeks", and scheduled it in.
I presented this summer camp idea to her in a very upbeat fashion. I purposely called it "camp"-never "school". It’s not her school, I agreed, but it will be fun to see one of her friend’s schools anyway. I stressed that she could ride the bus-or not-and that she would be with other kids she knew. I pointed out that it was only Mondays through Thursdays, and only in the mornings from 8.30 to 12.30.
"Plus," I said, "you’ll get breakfast! And lunch! And snack! And recess! Remember that you were pretty bored last summer when your brothers had all their friends around, and your friends were all in camps?"
I honed in on the timing: "It’s only one month. You’ll have the months of June and August off to do things-and all the long weekends, and 4th of July." (I skipped over how June was only one full week off, and that August only has three weeks before school starts up again.)
She gave me that skeptical look -- the one that says, "Really, Mom?" -- the special meaningful eye contact that she artfully accompanies with arched eyebrows and rolled eyes. But, she agreed to go.
In May, there was a special event at Green Street. We could fit it into our schedule between sports drop off and pick-ups for her brothers, and I jumped at the chance to introduce her to Green Street. The camp organizer warmly greeted her, and she saw a couple of people she already knew-and found out that they were going to be at the summer camp, too.
By June, as school wound down, and talk swirled around her of all the fabulous plans that everyone had for summer, she was not so sure she should go. She waffled, clearly torn between something "special" for her -- and the sense that she’d been duped into going to "school" when "everyone" was out just having fun.
The last week of school, there were tears on her part. Why are we forcing her to do something like this? She doesn’t really need this! Her teachers are telling her that she’s improved so much! Why are we such mean parents anyway? Echoing one of her brothers-who makes a big annual pitch for how his "vacation" should never have any obligations in it-she stated she didn’t need to go.
There were fears on my part: should I really force her to give up these few precious weeks of relaxation? We all know that childhood is fleeting, and that you don’t get "summers off" as an adult with a work schedule.
And, most regrettably, there were jeers on the part of one of her brothers: "You have to go to school! Ha!" We squelched these, of course ... but the taunts remained in her head.
I let her cruise through her first full week of vacation. I gave her a free ride on television time. I didn’t wake her up in the morning, and I didn’t send her to bed at night. We fit in time at the pond, going out for ice cream, and sleep overs.
Finally it was July 1, and it was back to mom yelling at the children to get out of bed and move. Her brothers had lacrosse camp and driver’s ed, so we all left together. She poked along (her normal morning speed anyway). She grumped (her normal mode of morning communication). She picked fights with her siblings and me (her normal morning routine).
I remained resolutely upbeat and cheery, and refused to be drawn into any of the drama she wants. I left Green Street School hopeful, but not very optimistic. It could be a very long July.
At 12.30, she hopped back into the car. She smiled at us all, and started talking about her teacher. "She’s so much fun, Mom, remember how I had her in third grade? I just love her. And we are studying about pirates! And we have recess! And do you remember that pirate book that you read to me? Well, my teacher is reading that book to us, too, and it’s her very favorite book, and she just loves it, and I love it. And did I tell you we get to have ducks? No, not real ducks, ducks like we have in the bathroom, in the bathtub. Rubber ducks. Some of them are pirates. We are going to study all about pirates. Well, not all the time, but some of the time, and ...."
Score one for the wisdom of the administrators in the school district: summer learning and summer fun, all rolled into one very palatable package, even in the eyes of a non-believing 9-year-old.
Jill Stahl Tyler is a parent to three children involved in the local schools-now at the high school, middle school and elementary school levels. She firmly believes in all education, and currently sits on the board for the Brattleboro School Endowment, the Brattleboro Town School Board and the Early Education Services policy council. Contact her at email@example.com.