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.|