Stay-At-Home Dad: Parents go to great lengths to get kids into summer camp
BY HOWARD A. LUDWIG April 26, 2013 6:53AM
Stay-At-Home Dad columnist Howard A. Ludwig sits in line early on a recent morning hoping to enroll his sons in a popular summer camp at Kennedy Park on Chicago's Southwest Side. | Supplied photo
Updated: May 29, 2013 6:14AM
I camped out for Lollapalooza tickets in 1994. The Beastie Boys headlined the show, along with The Smashing Pumpkins and The Black Crowes. The epic lineup was well worth spending four hours seated on the curb outside Coconuts Music.
That was nearly two decades ago. I returned to a curbside seat last week. Only this time, I waited for one of five spots available in a summer camp for kids.
Online registration for the Lil’ Campers program at Kennedy Park on Chicago’s Southwest Side filled up in one minute. I managed to secure a spot in the coveted morning session for my 5-year-old son online. I wasn’t so lucky with his 6-year-old brother.
There’s good reason for the high demand. Kennedy Park’s Summer Camp runs from July 2 to August 9. Campers spend three days each week taking part in various sports, fun activities and crafts. The park also has a pool, and it’s 100 yards from my front door.
Equally important, the three-hour camp gives parents a much-needed break. At a cost of $150 per child, it’s a bargain for a bit of sanity during the dog days of summer.
But having just one of my two boys enrolled in the camp doesn’t do anything for my mental health. I need to unload both of these dudes to get my mind right. So I arrived at 5 a.m. at the front door of the park.
To my chagrin, I wasn’t the first person in line. Six people already were camped outside the door. The first to arrive showed up at 3 a.m. This greatly decreased my chances of getting Bubba into the camp. But I was already there. And who knows, maybe the parents ahead of me wanted spots for older kids. Or maybe my rivals wanted a spot in the afternoon session. Or maybe my adversaries would abandon their spot in line after being suddenly stricken with a bug just before the doors opened at 9 a.m.
More parents kept coming. Between 5 and 6 a.m., each person greeted the group the same way: “I thought I’d be the first one here.”
As I bundled up in my folding chair, the dad seated immediately behind me said a neighbor had asked him beforehand what time he planned to arrive. He refused to answer.
“Why would I tell you?” he recounted as the sun began to rise. “Then you’ll get in line 15 minutes before me. This is for my kid. There’s nothing I won’t do.”
It didn’t take long for the first 10 people in line to survey the crowd. It looked like I was going to be out of luck. One dad ahead of me was taking three of the five spots in the session I wanted. But at least those three campers were his kids.
Another woman ahead of me was standing in line for a neighbor. She also wanted a spot in the same session. While her sentiment was noble, I really wish she hadn’t told me her reason for being in line at 4:45 a.m. It’s one thing to stand in line for your son or daughter. When you’re grabbing a spot for a vacationing friend, the person behind you is better off not knowing.
By the time the doors opened at 9 a.m., the line stretched to the street. More than 40 parents were hoping for a miracle. Some were pleasantly surprised. I was not. With the No. 7 spot in line, I was placed on the waiting list.
My face went white as I was handed a legal pad and asked to fill out my contact information. I waited four hours on a cold, blustery morning only to be denied. I walked the short distance back to my house. My teeth chattered. My stomach churned.
A glimmer of hope remained. The afternoon session was slow to fill. I figured at least one parent would give up a single slot in the morning session in favor of getting two or more children into the afternoon group. I’m not sure if this happened or not, but I received a call that afternoon saying a spot had opened up. Bubba was in.
As my resting heart rate returned to normal, I reflected on other reasons people stand in crazy lines. Often, it’s to buy the latest video game system or a highly sought toy. My parents camped out for He-Man’s Castle Grayskull and Cabbage Patch Kids.
When I thought about what these items have in common, I was reminded of the dad behind me in line.
“This is for my kid. There’s nothing I won’t do,” he said.
Howard A. Ludwig is a former SouthtownStar business reporter who traded his reporter’s notebook for a diaper bag, becoming a stay-at-home dad. He can be reached at email@example.com