Saturday, July 2, 2011

Spending solstice

School's out, summer's here, I'm broke.

It's been two weeks since school ended for Earbaby, the end of several eras. It's the end of elementary school since seventh grade is considered middle school or junior high. It's the end of her Catholic education. That's significant in that she's always gone to private Catholic school and will be uniformless for the first time since K1. It's also the end of religion classes, at least in the school. There's still church after all.

But these two weeks after school ended and before camp starts have been one long, exhausting spending spree. After the first two dizzying days of mani-pedis, clothes-shopping and breakfasts at this little cafe or that, I realized (about $500 later) I had been spending like a drunken sailor on a 24-hour liberty. That is to say, as if there was no tomorrow when the bills come due.

I must say, as much as I enjoy spending time with EB, she's an expensive date. We both like getting our nails done, so that's at least $100. Breakfast is never less than $25. And any trip to Target, no matter how short or deliberately budgeted, will undoubtedly still cost upwards of $150. And we didn't even get to go to the movies, a $50 proposition no matter how you slice it.

Many of the problems of summer though are the amazingly large outlays of funds even before it starts. We're not just talking about the summer reading booklist, or the jeans for back to school, or any of the other incidentals. The biggest expense is summer camp.

In my youth, no one went to summer camp. We used to go to Vacation Bible School at our church, which started promptly the week after we got out of regular school. It was a week of torture, although having friends suffering through it with us made it better, and the snacks always included Kool-Aid. I actually don't remember much about the lessons learned, the crafts made or what made it torture. But I do remember after that week was over and we looked forward to a summer of relaxation, we later realized that Vacation Bible School was a highlight of a long, boring summer. There were no video games, cable television or summer camps. There were three (or four) channels on the TV, which only played soap operas (which we called the dry shows) during the heat of the day when we stayed in because the parents were all working and we weren't allowed to wander.

Now you can pick a camp, any camp. You can go to dance camp, gymnastics camp, drama camp, horseback, tennis, golf, art, pretty much any-subject-you-show-interest-in camp. And then there's the regular day camps that have activities. Parents are encouraged to keep kids active, moving, out of the house and into a camp all summer. While that's not a bad thing, it's just also not an inexpensive one.

But for me, my worst expense comes in the two-week interim before all the camps start. At least at camp, she will be fed (or bring a lunch) and will be occupied for pretty much the whole day. When we're both home everything we can think to do costs at least a couple of limbs. It's my own fault however. Earbaby has the champagne tastes because we've never impressed the joy of a nice long walk, or bike ride, or stroll to the library, or the beach just for the day. They'll do those kinds of day trips at camp and since it's with her friends there won't be the requisite whining and complaining.

Speaking of the whining and complaining, is there anything better than a weekend trip with a sometimes-sullen preteen?

We spent last weekend in our nation's capital, and although we didn't get a glimpse of my favorite First Family, we did get a peek at their front yard, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Vietnam Veterans' wall, and the Smithsonian for American History.

But EB was thrilled only part of the time. She didn't like walking (this is a kid who can do six hours of dance or three hours of gymnastics conditioning, so she's no slouch), and seemed bored with several of the exhibits. She and I only got about a half hour of the Holocaust Museum, so we promised to get back for that one. But it's challenging to figure out what she would like and find interesting and also make it a trip for all of us. EB's inability to articulate what she wanted to see made it more frustrating. Saying "no" and "I don't know" doesn't leave much room for successful planning. She did get a kick out of the Spy Museum though, as did we all.

My husband and I decided this was an OK first foray, and as she gets older, and learns more about the nation's history, these things will come alive for her. I've got to go back when they put the finishing touches on the African American History Museum which will have an exhibit about the television show "Soul Train."  That's part of my own personal experience.

In the meantime, pull out the checkbook and bring on the summer camps. The days only get shorter from here.

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