It's been an odd summer. I guess I couldn't really expect things to feel all that normal given the fact that I still have no idea where my family will be living six weeks from now
. But the seeds were planted for this summer back in December when Julia made the decision about where she wanted to go to camp this year.
Most of the children in Julia's group of friends begin attending a local JCC camp the summer after they are 4. It's a wonderful camp, with terrific activities, dynamic counselors, daily swim lessons and all of the bells and whistles of a "real" summer camp. I'm the product of many years of summer camp myself and I'm a firm believer in the value of the summer camp experience. But 4 still feels a little young to me for a program which runs daily from 9-2, plus the additional time the kids spend on the camp bus. (Yes, a camp bus. At 4.) The price tag aside (and it's really no aside; all of this impressive enriching activity comes with equally impressive fees), the JCC camp experience just felt like too much to me. And I wasn't alone. Julia thought long and hard about the hours and the itinerary of a JCC camp day. And in the end, she was the one who made the decision that she'd be better off attending "camp" at her preschool, where they offer a summer program which meets only in the morning, includes "water fun" rather than Olympic size swimming pools and generally mimics a regular preschool day rather than a big kid's camp day.
I was relieved when Julia made her choice, both that the decision had been hers rather than mine and that she'd selected the lower key (and lower cost) summer activity. But I've wondered many times this summer whether it really was the right decision. Nearly every single one of her school friends is at the JCC, and while I'm pleased at how easily Julia's made new friends in her camp group, they're somewhat of a motley crew. I'm particularly irritated by the way their behavior seems to be rubbing off on her; hanging out with not-quite-4-year-old boys seems to have awakened my daughter's immature side, and I don't like it one bit. Her play is regressing, her attention span seems shorter and even her art projects have gone from lovely age-appropriate representational pieces to random scribble scrabble because "that's what my friends are doing."
I miss my mature daughter, and I miss seeing her with the bright, funny kids who are so familiar to me. Those children aren't perfect either, of course. Perhaps I'm more forgiving of their particular quirks because those kids have practically grown up in my home, but I find myself far more tolerant of the behavior Julia's picked up from her old friends than that which I see bleeding through from her new friends. I recognize that I have years and years of disliking Julia's choice of friends ahead of me, of course, and a little bit of immaturity is certainly a minor complaint compared to the traits and habits she could pick up from her peers some day. But I'm annoyed anyway, and I've spent more time than I care to admit second guessing her camp situation and wondering whether I should have pushed her harder to consider the JCC.
One afternoon last week, we met two of Julia's closest school friends, both of whom are at the JCC this summer, for a late afternoon playdate at the pool. Watching the girls reconnect, I could literally see Julia transform back into her secure, mature 4 1/2 year old self and I felt no small measure of relief as I sat back and watched the fun. For the gazillionth time, I wondered whether it had been a mistake not to send her to the JCC. On the way home, I asked Julia whether she regretted her camp decision. I was pretty sure I did, though I didn't say that.
Julia thought carefully for a moment before she answered me. "No," she finally replied, "but I wish more of my friends had chosen to go to the temple, too." And just like that, she nailed it. It's a shame that none of Julia's school friends made the same summer activity choice that she did, but that doesn't make Julia's choice wrong. She's in the right place this summer, for all the reasons that she initially selected it. The hours are right, the low key nature of the program suits her and the familiar environment is confortable and easy. Even better for me, the price is right and I've got both kids in one facitily for a change. How could I have lost sight of all that? How could she not
have lost sight of all that, even in the face of a joyful reunion with her old friends?
Julia may be sinking to the level of her new friends on the playground, but deep down, my thoughtful kid still lurks. At 4 1/2 Julia has more self awareness than I posses at 34. She knows what's best for herself and she's confident enough in that knowledge not to continually second guess her decisions. When I grow up, I want to be more like her.