Summer Camp Makes Me Cry

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Categories Anger, Childcare, Fear, Frustration, Mommy Issues, Older Children, Products, Safety, School-Age, WorkingTags , , , , 5 Comments

summercampOur school district has a 12-week summer vacation. I’m a single mom with a full-time job, so I have to find somewhere safe and fun for my 7-year-old daughters to spend the summer months. According to our divorce decree, my ex-husband is supposed to get 30 summer days with the kids when he’s stateside, but he had to decline that right this year, so arrangements for the entirety of the 12 weeks fell to me.

I pored over summer camp brochures. My kids qualified, academically, for the highly rated Summer Wonders program for gifted children, but the full-day program plus extended care (for two) was well outside my schedule requirements as well as my budget. I finally decided to go with a local YMCA program for 11 weeks and Girl Scout camp for 1 week and let the kids pick specific options.

A friend made all the transportation arrangements for Girl Scout camp and kept my daughters after camp until I got home from work that week. The paperwork was more than a little frustrating–why would a day camp require that I provide scans of the girls’ medical insurance cards?–but the kids had a fantastic time.

Most of the YMCA weeks were to be spent at a school location at one of their basic camps. Each of these basic camps has a weekly field trip, weekly swimming outing and fun activities all day, every day. The kids are obviously happy and well-cared for, and the counselors make sure that I knew the schedule, providing daily updates on a whiteboard, a printed schedule, and verbal reminders.

For a few weeks,  we elected to sign up for a few “special” camps: tumbling, cheer-leading, soccer and cooking. These camps last from 8 am to 1 pm. Outside these hours, kids can additionally register for full-day camp, and the YMCA staff is responsible for transitioning the kids from one program to the other.

Once the kids were actually at their special camps, they had a blast. The counselors were fantastic. J, being petite, got to participate in the most fun part of all sorts of cheerleading stunts. She’s a “flyer.” M couldn’t stop talking about her dribbling, defense and scoring skills.

The administrative side, though, was just horrendous. I thought that, once I’d filled out the forms, paid out my $400 deposit ($15 per week per child for 12 weeks plus some base deposit) and paid the first week’s tuition, things would go smoothly.

Not so.

In week one, I was the first one to mess up. I showed up to the school-based camp location instead of the specials place. One of the counselors made some calls to help me figure out where J and M should be. They were signed up for tumbling camp… except that they weren’t. I managed to register M and J on the spot for the school location and left them there while I tried to chase things down. As I said, the on-site staff, the people who actually deal with kids, are professional, accommodating, and infinitely helpful.

What had happened, it turns out, was that when I signed J and M up for tumbling camp (or perhaps when they got around to entering them into their system), the camp was full. So someone took the initiative to move my $30 deposit for the week to be a credit against another week of camp, without ever bothering to communicate the change to me, and effectively leaving me without childcare for that week. When I tried to point out that the appropriate, polite and professional thing to do would have been to inform and consult me, the manager simply said, “Well, I have no idea who did it. Jeff took your paperwork, but he would never do that. I can’t look up who did.”

Great. Thanks. That makes everything better. Obviously, my first impression of the “special” camps wasn’t fantastic. Neither was the second.

What I had gathered from the (incomplete) information on the YMCA website and from several conversations was that I could drop the girls off at the full-day location between 7 and 8 or bring them directly to their special camp at 8. On the first day, I decided on the latter. I easily located M’s soccer coach, signed her in, and began to seek J’s cheer instructor.

I asked for a location at the front desk. I was pointed to a room in the building. We went in and it was empty. It was 7:55. I called out, thinking that I was simply failing to see someone. There was no response. I went to the childcare program offices for help.

“We don’t run that program,” said the ever unhelpful Jeff. “You’ll have to ask at the front desk.”
“I already did,” I told him. “They told me to go to room X.”
“Yeah, that’s right.”
“There’s no one there.”
“Oh, you should take her down to the [location] for the full-day program.”
“Now?”
“Yeah.”

I loaded J into the car and went down the street to the full-day location. Drop-off was easy, and J and I made sure that the counselor knew that J was supposed to be going to cheer camp. I left, my heart easy. I knew Sophia, the woman running the full-day program, and I knew she’d make sure everything was ship-shape.

When I returned in the afternoon to pick up the girls, Sophia was there. “I was so surprised!” she said. “I came in around 9, and there was J! It was so nice to see her.”

That didn’t sound right. At 9:00, J should have been at cheer camp. I mentioned my confusion. Sophia looked at her paperwork and confirmed that J should have been taken to cheer. She promised to look into it. J told me that she’d repeatedly told her counselor that she was in the wrong place, but I imagine that the counselor is accustomed to the petulant and unrealistic demands of 7-year-olds.

Within 10 minutes of our leaving to drive home, Sophia called. She’d called a couple of people. She and her counselors had messed up, she told me. By the time J and I arrived that morning, the posse of kids destined for special programs had already left. I assured her that, while I appreciated her taking responsibility, there were plenty of others who had given us misinformation.

The next morning, we were there at 7:50. M’s drop-off with her soccer coaches went smoothly, but J’s was again problematic. I went to the classroom in question, and it was filled with serious looking types in suits. I again went to the front desk. I tried to express to the man there that I was seeking the cheer instructor, and he informed me that he wasn’t the person I should talk to. I asked who I should talk to. He told me that no one I should talk to was there yet. I asked who, among the people there, could help me locate my child’s coach. He finally gave me the phone number for the head of the program. I went back to my car to get my phone, called the number he’d given me, and left a message. She still hasn’t had the decency to return my call.

On the way back to the classroom (for the fourth time in 2 days), I ran into a friend whose daughter was also in cheer camp. They’d be meeting in the grass that morning because of the meeting taking place in their regular location, she told me. By the time we found them, the other kids were in a circle, stretching with the coach. A woman–Carrie? Casey? I’m ashamed to say I was too upset to have retained her name–asked if I would like to sign J in. No, I told her. I wanted to talk to her.

I told her the whole story. By the time I was half way through, I was sobbing. I told her that I was entrusting her organization with the care of my children, and their behaviour wasn’t filling me with confidence. I trusted Sophia, I told her, to make sure that my kids were safe. She’d earned my trust over months of consistent communication, thoughtful and gentle discipline, and excellent time management. Sophia knew and cared for my kids. I hadn’t gotten an impression of caring from the other administrative staff. The not-my-problem attitude wasn’t winning any brownie points.

Carrie (?) looked into the whole tumbling fiasco. She took a screenshot of the oddball transactions and put it on the accounts manager’s desk for him to investigate. She explained to me that getting full-day kids to their special camps was the responsibility of the full-day counselors. I told her that I had already spoken to Sophia and worked out that part of it. I did ask her why, when J was missing yesterday, I didn’t receive a call to tell that she wasn’t where she was supposed to be. A lot of kids, it turns out, just never show up, so they don’t bother calling no shows. I recommended that the two programs get on the same page about what should be done with kids who arrive in that grey time between 7:50 and 8:00. Parents would understand, I assured her, if we needed to stay 10 minutes. Just tell us that instead of sending us on wild goose chases.

Sophia called me later that morning to check in. I assured her that I felt that she’d done what she could. I let her know, though, that a coworker of mine said that he’d had similar issues at the location 15+ years ago. It was time to fix some things. She listened to my recommendations and promised to follow up. She even thanked me for giving her a parent’s perspective.

  • Assign a person who is physically present to be in charge of parent communication at all times throughout the day, and make sure that all staff members know who that person is.
  • Coordinate between programs so that managers know where children should be taken at what time.
  • Provide clear and consistent expectations for drop-off times and locations to all employees and train them on answering questions with patience and a sense of ownership of the problem.
  • Send email or written confirmation of registration records to ensure that parents have the same impression as the YMCA of their child’s schedule.
  • Along with written confirmation of registration, send parents a list of assumptions. Who is responsible for our child at different points in the day? Where, precisely, are we supposed to go to drop them off and pick them up? What should they bring with them?
  • Train data entry staff on appropriate handling of unusual cases or insist that they check with a manager before making modifications.

Honestly, I don’t have much confidence that they’ll fix anything. I’ll just have to trust that Sophia will notice even if everyone else loses track of my children. And this will be our last year of turning to the Y for special camps.

Edit: June 26, 2013, 11 pm CDT – Things got worse today. Read on.

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To Work or Not to Work

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Ever since the thought of having children crossed my mind when I was a child myself, it always seemed a given to me that when I did, I would stay at home and take care of them. My mom was a stay-at-home mother, and her mother before her, and I never thought to question it.

Fast forward 20 years or so to the birth of my first, and this all of a sudden was not so clear cut. I’d had a career. I was 7 years into teaching. I was a professional, I liked (if not loved at times) my job, and it was a large part of my identity. But that sort of clashed with my new identity as a mother, which for me trumped everything else. So I questioned what I would become.

A working mom, like so many of our generation? One who bundles up the child(ren) in a mad dash out the door each morning only to see them for a couple of hours each night? One who pays a good amount of her salary to daycare and wonders whether her child is being treated right? For a type-A personality like mine, this was hard to stomach. For the overprotective mother I was quickly becoming (who isn’t with their firstborn?), this seemed an impossibility.

But what about the lifestyle to which we were so accustomed? The mortgage and car payments, the Amazon shopping and eating out. Not to mention the place I had made for myself at my school, in my classroom, with my students.

Fortunately, my daughter was born in May, so maternity leave ran through the end of that school year, and I had all summer to stay at home with her. I worked out a plan to convince my mom to drop her work down to part time (I would compensate for the pay decrease) to watch my daughter while I was at work. She is the only person I trust with my children for any extended period of time, does not act like a grandparent (doesn’t cave to requests for cookies), and comes with the added benefit of speaking only Mandarin. So my daughter went to Grandma’s at 3.5 months, right when she began to reliably sleep through the night. She’s gotten good food, daily love and discipline, and is now fully bilingual. And I’ve gotten every afternoon and all holidays with her (which are pretty numerous as a teacher). It’s worked out great for 2.5 years.

Now, our daughter has a set of siblings, 11 weeks old. Three children under 3. This impossible decision is upon us again. I have already decided to take the rest of the school year off. That part is not in question. There is no way I would have left my twins after 8 weeks of maternity when my firstborn singleton got 3.5 months.

In fact it’s hard to imagine leaving them at all. As it is they are getting one third the attention our firstborn got. And though I am “off work” at 3pm daily, by then I’ve already had a full day of 5 classes, creating lessons, grading papers, and managing teenagers. To take on 3 kids after that may just break the camel’s back. Not to mention how an aging grandmother is supposed to handle them all…

But then again is the mortgage, the car payments (I’ve caved and accepted the fact that we will need a minivan sooner rather than later), the lifestyle we like to live, the TWO ADDITIONAL members of the family to support, and our future dreams to consider. Can we, do we want to, make the financial sacrifices necessary? Am I comfortable putting my career on hold, and if so for how long? The husband says he will support whatever decision I make, but I know that he is terrified of being the only wage earner in our family. Am I being selfish in not wanting to miss out on my children’s babyhood?

What to decide? I have until the end of the school year to do so, before the contracts for next year are signed. I’m hoping by then I will have either fallen in love with the life of parks and playdates, or can’t wait to get back to work.

lunchldyd is a mom to an almost 3 yr old daughter and her 11 week old twin brother and sister. She is also a high school teacher. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, 3 children under 3, and two neglected dogs.

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Movin' on up!

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This post, my friends, will contain absolutely no advice.  Zero.  Zip.  Zilch.  Instead, I’m asking for your advice.  Can you help?  Please?

Earlier in the week, Rebecca wrote a post about the shrinking of your living space once twins come into the picture.  Two babies at once = lots-o-stuff.  No matter how large your house, it seems to shrink exponentially as the months in which your kids have inhabited the Earth go by.  First, it’s the bouncy seats, swings, play mats, and Bumbo chairs that liter the living room.  Then around the 5th month mark, the aforementioned items are handed down to another expectant MOM (to fill up her living room!), and it’s the Exersaucers, Jumperoos and high chairs that take their place. 

We sold the ol’ Exersaucer and Jumperoo on Craigslist a month or two ago and, damn…that was a happy day!  “More space!!”, B and I said to each-other.  That was, until they started walking.  And climbing.  And being….well, 1-year olds! 

It was at that time that we decided enough-was-enough and started looking around at houses.  Right now, the space in which we live is 1,388 square feet.  That seemed HUGE before we had kids.  We would rarely even use our downstairs, which includes two bedrooms and a bathroom.  We had one entire bedroom (now the boys’ room) that contained nothing more than backpacks and sleeping bags.  We stored them in the abandoned room simply because something had to be in there.  It couldn’t just be….empty! 

Now we seem to be bursting out at the seams of our little home.  The boys enjoy exploring every square inch.  And the primary-colored plastic explosion that is now our living room…well, it needs to be a bit bigger. 

We’ve been looking at houses for a few months now.  While attending open houses, even the 1,600 square foot homes seem SO big.  But we know that, once the boys get older, that amount of space will seem small as well.  So, we decided to stay around the 2,000 square foot mark.  Not to big, but not too small.  I’m all for living in the smallest amount of space that is feasible for a family.  Less to heat, less to clean and less space to search when your kid plays a game of “hide mommy’s car keys”. 

So.  We need to move into a bigger home.  Check.  That would entail us having to sell our current home…and you guessed it!  That’s where you come in! 

Dear readers, how is a family of four supposed to live in their current home, all while giving the “illusion” that it is not lived in?  How do you make your home as uncluttered as possible when you have two one-year olds and all of the paraphernalia that accompanies them, cluttering up your house?  Moreover, how are you supposed to show your house when you and your husband both work full-time and the only time during the week that you have available to show your home is between the hours of 5:30 pm and 6:30 pm, which also happens to coincide with the time in which your two little munchkins start flinging sweet potatoes and black beans all over the dining room (aka, their dinner time)?

If any of our readers have experienced selling their current home and moving into a new house with kids in tow, we want to hear from you!  Give us your tips on staying sane while movin’ on up… 

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