Family Life


4 min Read

In Praise of the ’80s Summer

tree branches

Two girls standing outside in summer
Juliette and Sophie, at the start of their freestyle summer

Originally published in summer 2019

I woke up at 3 a.m. one night in March filled with dread, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. I turned on the lights and walked through the house, checking on my girls—Sophie, 7, and Juliette, 4—as well as the locks on the windows and the deadbolts on the doors. I peeked through the curtains in my bay window, looking to observe anything shady on the street. I checked my phone for texts and emails that might explain my nervousness.

Eventually, finding nothing out of order, I went back to bed. I never really fell asleep again, so I crankily started my day a couple of hours later, the sinking feeling still prevailing.

And then later that afternoon, as I sat at my desk in my office, it hit me: I had missed city camp registration. That might not sound like a big deal to you, but in Toronto, if you’re not on the registration website the moment it opens, with your course codes, a strong cup of coffee and sheer determination to get all of your activities, you’re out of luck. It’s wait lists for you, lady. And I did not have a Plan B.

I immediately jumped online to see what was still available (nothing) and to research and cost out private camps. By the end of the afternoon, I’d cobbled together a haphazard schedule of too expensive options I was really lukewarm on. So I decided to sleep on it (or not sleep on it, as the case may be) for one more night.

As luck would have it, one of my oldest friends, Rebecca, called that night. It was just regular check-in, with standard catch-up chitchat, but I hung up thinking about all of the summer days we’d spent together as kids. And she wasn’t the only one—I’d grown up with three siblings, and in a neighbourhood where there was always someone to play with. My mom whistled from the front porch when it was dinnertime. Otherwise, we lived outside all summer. We didn’t need camp. We basically were camp. And that sealed it: My kids would have the kind of summer I had as a kid.*

Don’t get me wrong—they are registered for half-day activities here and there, and they are doing a couple of week-long specialty summer camps, but the rest of the time, I’m insisting they entertain themselves. Now, we’re two weeks in and an amazing thing has happened: They wake up, eat breakfast, get dressed and go outside. They’re spending more time in the backyard than ever. They’re colouring the sidewalk every shade of the rainbow. They’re making fairy gardens. They’re riding their bikes. They’re meeting neighbours we didn’t know before. They’re driving me nuts with their requests for freezies, or to go to the splash pad, but I will take it, given how joy-filled they seem. 

I would never have thought my lack of organization would ever yield such positive results, but I’m honestly delighted I missed camp registration day. There are only so many childhood summers, and I’m so glad my kids are loving this one.

*I realize I’m so fortunate to work from home, to be able to supervise my kids during the day. For moms and dads who work outside of the home, try the 1980s summer approach in the evenings and on weekends. I highly recommend it. (For now, anyway. We’ll see how I feel by Labour Day.)

a man carrying two children

Related Articles