Confessions of a New Camp Mom

It’s funny how you don’t really think your life can get upended even MORE when you’re a parent and then, inevitably, something comes along and puts you ass over teakettle. We knew that day was coming later this fall, when dd heads off to Kindergarten; in reality, it started already, since today is her first day at camp.

Naturally, it’s not like we’re packing her off for a few weeks in the Hamptons; she’s heading to a day camp that’s about 5 minutes away from the day care where she was a mainstay (and BGoC) for the last 5 years. Still, it’s a big adjustment. Drop-offs and pickups just got a bit more complicated, since we now have to drop her off before we drop off ds at day care, and then we have to pick her up before we get ds (the hours at the camp, even paying for before and after-care, still run shorter than those of our day care center). She also needs to eat breakfast before she goes to camp, since she won’t be fed when she gets there. As if mornings weren’t difficult enough…

Food is also one of those funny little problems. We’ve been getting off easily for the last half-decade. Ever since she was weaned off the bottle, her breakfast, lunch & snack were taken care of by day care. I consider it baked into the price (no pun intended). Also, given the price we’ve been paying, they had better be feeding the children. This stuff ain’t cheap. But now we have to make sure she’s fed before she goes, make sure she has something to nosh on in the morning and the afternoon, and pack her up with a lunch that’s peanut-free (no worries there; unlike her little brother, she has yet to embrace peanut butter as a food group). You can buy lunch for as little as $4/day, but we wanted to make it possible for her to make and take what she wants.

So, her little (new) soft-sided lunchbox currently has a half-sandwich with tuna salad, a small container packed to the gills with red grapes, and a baggie stuffed with red, yellow and orange peppers (all her choice). Her snacks are a vanilla chip granola bar and a 100 calorie pack of chocolate chip cookies. Because I’m paranoid, I’m also sending her with $10 – enough to purchase a meal if something happens to hers and still have a few bucks left over to raid the snack machine for snacks, too. I felt the hit this week, as our grocery bill went up by several dollars; I’m starting to get a sense of how much we will start to have to pay weekly once she goes off to school in September.

And my biggest worry isn’t even addressed yet: it’s whether or not she’ll be okay. Of course, she WILL be fine. Plenty of kids go to this camp every year, and we have several friends who are sending their kids (dd’s peer group, from prior years at day care). It’s just her introduction into the world of being a little fish in a big pond. And we won’t be there to hold her hand, give her a hug, provide “uppies”, or any of that other stuff. From 7pm – 5-something-pm, she’s very much on her own. I can only hope she makes a friend early on.

DH also noticed that ds was having issues falling asleep last night because he knew a separation was coming, too. For his entire life, he’s had his sister very close by; and, for all but the few months when he was at home right after birth, he’s been able to see her basically whenever he wanted (the teachers at day care were very good about giving them visiting time when they wanted or needed it). This is dress rehearsal time for the Fall, when he won’t see her from early morning until early evening. We’ve had to get used to this, but we’ve got oodles of practice, since she started day care on her 3mo birthday. He has yet to see what this is like, so this should be a challenging week for us all.

Ultimately, I think we’ll all be fine and I think dd will love being at camp. She’ll get tons of outside time (which she didn’t get at day care), she’ll be far more active, and she’ll be challenged in ways that she wasn’t by a structured environment where the structure didn’t vary dramatically year-to-year. We’ll all be fine. Right now, it feels like we’re staring over the edge of a cliff, but I’m sure we’ll all be fine.


Slimming down the cost of getting fitter

When most people decide they want to get into some sort of exercise routine, their first consideration is often cost. You can start by checking the Sunday newspaper circulars – what’s on sale at Target? Does anybody know of any good workout DVD’s? Does Sears have a decent treadmill that I can put on my credit card?

The good news is that there are even more options than these, some of which are even free.

First things first: start by talking with your primary care physician (PCP) about your specific goals. Your doctor will tell you what they think you’re physically up to doing, and they can often refer you to a nutritionist, physical therapist, or other specialist, if such attention is needed. If your PCP is part of a “patient-centered medical home” (sometimes called a “PCMH”), your health insurance plan may cover visits to your doctor with a reduced (or $0!) co-pay. The key thing here is that you never want to start a new exercise plan without checking in with your doc FIRST.

Second: look at no-cost options. Make sure you actually LIKE the exercise/plan you’re trying out before you invest cash in it. Consider walking or running in your neighborhood before you buy a treadmill or get a gym membership. Cable TV subscribers can often benefit from “On Demand” services offered through cable providers like Cox, Comcast and Time Warner that allow you to view unlimited quantities of exercise videos as part of your cable subscription. Try before you buy those DVD’s!

Third: Use the discounts that you get through sources OTHER than the paper. Many health insurance plans, especially the national biggies (i.e., Blue Cross Blue Shield, United Healthcare, Aetna and Cigna) offer “wellness” programs that include discounts on everything from gym memberships to equipment to apparel. Some insurers also offer rewards for completing wellness activities, like completing online health assessments or going for an annual physical exam. Go to your insurer’s web site or call the customer service number on the back of your insurance card to get the skinny on these discounts.

Fourth: Look at work! Many workplaces have started to offer wellness programs and rewards, sometimes in addition to those offered through the insurance plan. Rewards can be anything from cash reimbursement for specific activities and memberships to discounts on gym memberships, race registrations, and more. Check with the Human Resources (HR) department, as applicable, for more info on what may be available for you.

I’ve gotten some great deals for myself in the last 12 months, like personal training sessions at my gym paid for by my company, and 15% off my awesome sneakers for the marathon (Brooks Addiction) at the local running store, thanks to our health insurer. I know about these discounts mostly because I read the stuff that’s posted on the HR section of my company’s intranet, and I glance at our health insurer’s newsletter before I toss it in the recycle bin. I also occasionally log in and check our health insurer’s web site for new discounts, since deals are often updated there and not put in the printed material. In other words, there are LOADS of things out there to help reduce the cost of getting fitter, and they’re not always hidden in the most obvious places. Happy hunting! (and if you know of other good, semi-hidden/non-obvious sources, feel free to post them in the comments so others can benefit from your wisdom!)

Why don’t schools support working parents better?

This isn’t the post I’d originally planned to post.

My first draft of this, written two days ago – the evening after I registered dd for Kindergarten – was far more cranky. Now, I’m not sure how I feel. Numb? Frustrated? Resigned to it all?

The long and the short of it is that I’m dealing with the emotional aftermath of realizing how much about our lives will change once dd starts Kindergarten. Of course, there’s a financial toll, but we’ve been paying such enormous sums of money to our day care center for so long that I’m just not as sensitive to that anymore. You could say that I’ve been broken down by it all.

What I’m trying to get past now is the fact that so many things need to be cobbled together in order to ensure that dh and I can continue to work.

Let me say that again: so that dh and I can continue to work.

Why should putting our dd in Kindergarten, in a public school – no less – have any kind of impact on whether or not we have jobs? After all, public schools are free and that should be an enormous help, right?

Well…not quite.

We live in a town with excellent schools, so private schools aren’t a consideration. I’m perfectly at peace with that; the quality of the school district was part of our decision to move here, and we’re both the product of public schools. Of course, our property taxes are through the roof, but that’s a function of the high quality schools and a NIMBY streak a whole town wide.

So, it kinda hurt when we found out that we have to pay for full-time Kindergarten. The half-day is free, because that’s a requirement set by the state, but full-time Kindergarten comes at a cost of nearly $4K before you get to any before and after care.

Why on earth would you need before and after care, you ask? Well, school only runs from about 9am-3pm. With both of us working full-time and still having commutes to contend with, that schedule is impossible to match. We typically leave the house around 7am to get both of us to work on time (with a day care drop-off by *somebody*), and I’m the first one to the kids at 5:15pm, if I’m running on-time. So, that leaves us in the unenviable position of needing both “before-care” and “after-care”. If we’re okay with paying for the before and after care offered at school, we can pay more than $5K on top of the Kindergarten tuition. As it is, we’re only on the hook for an additional $4K because of a before-care arrangement I struck up with a friend who lives up the street.

Now, that’ll cover us from the start of school (around Labor Day) to end of the school year (late June), not including various holidays, Christmas vacation, and two school vacation weeks in the spring term. There’s still a gap of however many weeks (9-12) during the summer where we need to have a better plan than leaving dd in the house with a window cracked. She’s pretty nearly outgrown her daycare, so next summer (and maybe even this summer) we need a camp. That’s another $4K-ish, with hours running from about 9am-3pm/4pm. BUT, you can pay for before- and after-care! Sigh.

I’ve started to price out camps, and the timeframes they offer span anywhere from 6 weeks to 12 weeks, in costs ranging from around $200/week to nearly $500/week. It’s all mind-boggling.

I feel like I have to pull together this patchwork quilt of solutions so that dd will be in an educational and engaging environment year-around, since quitting a job simply isn’t an option. The cost of living in the eastern portion of Massachusetts rivals that of New York City or San Francisco – I know only a handful of families with stay at home parents. I don’t feel like I can take out this frustration on any of the nice people at the school; they are all awfully nice and they could easily tell that most of us were deer in headlights: unsure of what questions to ask because we’re not even sure what all we’re getting ourselves into.

I suppose that, as long as I’m willing to open my checkbook and do far more homework than dd will have to do anytime soon, I can get all of these resources lined up. It’s just more than a bit overwhelming and I only hope that I don’t let anything slip through the cracks. The room for error, when you can’t just spend days at home to cover gaps that you didn’t plan appropriately for, is just miniscule.