Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Day camping birthday girl

Before living in the US, I used to hear the words 'summer camp' and then instantly associate it with teenagers spending weeks on end in rustic cabins by picturesque lakes, far away from home. I suppose I'd watched one too many movies as a kid, where this was the case. Does anyone remember Poison Ivy, with Michael J Fox? Or the original The Parent Trap? I'd always assumed that 'camps' were simply the American version of British boarding schools - but for summer time instead.

It wasn't until last summer, when the Faery had finished Kindergarten and was waiting to start Grade One, that I learned of summer day camps, and how entirely different they were. Not boarding school, but essentially a version of child care for older kids. Many of the Faery's school friends were enrolled in various day camp programmes over the summer - mostly out of necessity with two working parents, or sometimes to give their mothers a break. I didn't really feel the need to sign the Faery up because I wasn't working and couldn't justify the cost.

A factor that I didn't consider at the time, though, was the duration of American summer holidays.

In Australia, the school year tends to finish around mid-December, and begin by the end of January - a total of six weeks of summer freedom. In Los Angeles, school finished in early June and will resume in mid August. In Seattle, the summer break is from mid-June until early September.

That's around two and a half months of no school. In the Faery's case, her summer break is three months long, due to the move between different states and school districts. THREE MONTHS!

The first three weeks were a dizzy social blur for her, as I tried to ensure she saw as much of her buddies as possible before the big move... and then we moved.

This move has been harder on her than any of us. There have been tears galore, and pining for her friends. Despite me throwing a two-month-early birthday party for her in L.A. (knowing we'd be in Seattle and she wouldn't know anyone on her actual birthday), the past week has seen her express the most heart-wrenching statements - designed for maximum guilt - such as "What I REALLY want for my birthday is friends."

I've done my best to try and make the transition to Seattle fun, and between unpacking and the usual just-moved-to-a-new-city errands, most days have involved trips to explore different parks, playgrounds, and lakeside beaches. We even did our first bus ride into downtown Seattle last week.

It hasn't been enough to fill the social hole, though. We've been here just over a month, and there is still another whole month to fill before school starts... so J and I decided to enrol her at a nearby day camp for this week, in the hope that she'll enjoy hanging out with other kids her age. The local community runs a Monday-Friday programme, from 8.45 - 5, and makes use of the park that it's located in, and the nearby pool, with field trips to roller skating rinks, beaches, interspersed with arty/crafty activiti es. Every time we've walked through the park and past the community centre these last few weeks, we've seen the day camp kids hanging out and they seemed to be really enjoying themselves.

I was keen to sign her up sooner than later, but it turned out - availability aside - they were pretty strict about her being seven years old (the camp is for 7-11 year olds), so I had to wait for the week she turned seven.

That day came yesterday. The sweetest kid I know had her seventh birthday, and what did I do? I packed her off to summer day camp on her actual birthday. It sounds awful, I know. She'd spent the last week insisting she didn't want to go to camp. We did our best to make the lead up to her birthday fun - she got a new scooter, plus a bike without training wheels a week early (J has spent every evening teaching her to ride the bike, and she's pretty much got the hang of it now). We promised her a yummy dinner out at a place of her choice, and - of course - birthday cake.

Oddly enough, there was a shift in her attitude about the camp, and when it was time to go - her backpack crammed with her swimsuit, towel, sunscreen, lunch and snacks - she was genuinely excited. I had a knot in my stomach all day, hoping she was enjoying herself. When it was time to collect her, I arrived fifteen minutes early... and she was so intent on the beading activity she was doing, that it took those same fifteen minutes to wait until she'd decided to pack up. The drive to her birthday dinner was peppered with small stories about things that happened that day, and I knew she was okay.

This morning, she practically ran from the car to the community centre, and I had to catch her for goodbye kisses. At this rate, I'm going to be praying that there's a spot for her in another week's programme... and I'm thankful that she's happy.

6 years and 361 days old.

Birthday dinner of burgers and shakes, along with pinball, Galaga and Pacman.
Exhausted from day camp.

Playing Galaga with J.

Cake time. Happy Birthday, my sweetness.


  1. Happy birthday Faery! What a lovely cake and I hope she had a great day.

    Glad she enjoyed the camp. You know, Noddy had the experience of day camp over the recent school holidays. It was run by the same people who do the out of school hours care that he attends, so much as what you've described.

    He didn't want to go ... I won't kid you. He heard the word "camp" and freaked out in three different ways but thankfully, he ended up enjoying himself. I had to work as I had no holiday leave left so I'm glad it went well. They did some great activities and he also made a new friend!

    So much change going on in your lives and it will take a while for things to settle down I guess. I'm hoping she enjoys the rest of the summer, meets some new pals and will be all ready for when school goes back.

    1. Ah, the cake! It's the first year that I haven't made one myself for her, but meh. I'm no Martha Stewart! For a supermarket job, it was pretty tasty.

      I'm glad Noddy enjoyed himself. Three days in, and F is still happy too. In fact, a funny thing happened today. While waiting to pick her up, and killing time with P in the nearby playground, I met an almost-7 year old girl with an adorable English accent. After chatting to her for a bit, I established that she'd just moved to the area and is set to attend the same school as F... so I marched over to her dad and introduced myself. Turns out they'd only moved here two weeks ago from the UK (even newer than us!) and for the same company (no surprises, really). Anyhow, I'm REALLY hoping the girls end up in the same class at school because they'll have a few things in common and won't feel so fish-out-of-water. Fingers crossed!

      I'm not always the one to make the first move, so I'm pretty proud of myself for taking that first step and approaching the girl's father. We had a good chat and he told me that they visit there everyday, so I'm going to try and ensure F gets to meet them, and hopefully have a buddy in place by the time school starts.

  2. Bless her Mads! Such a sweetheart. So true, the older they get the harder for them to settle into a new place. It must feel like so long until school will start up for her, and let's face it...it doesn't just feel long, it is a damn long time to wait! I have no doubt though that she will form some new beautiful friendships at her new school when the time comes.
    Just read your comment above .... that is awesome news. Well done. You are such a wonderful mum Mads. F is lucky to have you xxx

    1. Thanks Jen! You're too sweet.

      We ended up getting her in for a second week of camp, as she's been enjoying it so much. I don't know if any of the older kids there will go to her school, but I'm hopeful (but despite returning to the park around the same time each day this past week, I haven't seen the little girl I mentioned above. Kind of a bummer, but fingers crossed that our paths cross soon so that F can meet her before school goes back). xxx