What did I find myself doing on the coldest night in January? Hitting “submit” on the first camp form of 2014. Summer camp.
My 6-year-old son will be going to a baseball camp in July. I knew it was a popular camp. I knew it could fill up. I knew he would think it was a dream to be able to meet a Washington Nationals player and go on the field at his favorite stadium. I also couldn't shake the feeling that I was being a little crazy signing him up in January, just as the registration opened.
But camp craziness is a sickness, and one that is already taking over the minds and keyboards of parents.
I swore I wouldn't be this way. But it's just this one camp. Right?
I started hearing about summer camps before Christmas. One worried friend e-mailed me asking whether I had started to figure out what my kid would be doing. I scoffed. No, we didn't sign up until the last minute last year, and he had a blast, I said. A colleague told me she was getting e-mails from camps her daughter had attended, saying they were filling up. In December. Another felt she had to jump on things because her daughter's favorite camp was offering a discount if she signed up in January. And my son's best bud's mom asked in January whether he was interested in zoo camp because early registration is, well, now.
This is our second summer doing camps, and it's still overwhelming and confusing. Some camps are one week. Others, three. Some end at 2 p.m., others at 6 p.m. Do we need after-care? Before-care? Do we really need to wait online to get a few coveted slots for the few coveted camps? Or will he be just as happy with the neighborhood tennis/water fight/ice cream days as he was last summer?
Wouldn't it be great if there was just one place to figure it all out?
I spent a little time recently with Ilene Miller and Lisa Friedlander, founders of ActivityRocket.com. The idea behind their company is simple: Search for an activity or camp in your area, and you will probably find it. You can even sign up for camp (or an activity) for free right from the site.
The impetus for the site was when Friedlander, a former lawyer, was frustrated trying to find a class for her daughter at a very specific time during the week. Her friend, Miller, a former lobbyist, had booked an entire summer vacation on Expedia in just minutes, and they realized that's what parents needed for kids' activities.
And so they set out to try to build such a thing. They now have almost 500 businesses on their site.
A few years ago, before our camp days, my sister-in-law told me about the spreadsheet she had at the ready with camps, dates, times to sign up and other pertinent information. That was how she organized her two daughters' summers, when school was out but both parents still had to work.
Would we have to do that, too? I'm not that organized.
So here we are in February. We still just have one camp on the roster and another waiting in the wings. But I'm sure, with a little help, we'll figure out the rest of the summer in due time.
And you know what? He's going to have a blast.