Doesn’t Everyone Love Camp?

When it comes to raising children, controversy abounds. Should toddlers watch TV? Is it better to spank or use time-out? Public school or private? Day camp or residential?

All of these issues are personal. Personal decisions. Personal values. Perfectly understandable.

But camp things? I never thought doing camp-type activities with my family could stir up a cross-country debate challenging my personal parenting style. After all, don’t all parents think camp is a positive experience?

Apparently not.

Reality Show?

As a former camp director, our family thinks nothing of putting on skits, making s’mores in the fireplace, dripping paint on the kitchen table during craft projects or putting pillows under our T-shirts and bumping stomachs in Sumo-wrestling competitions. It’s who we are and we think we’re normal. I guess you could say it’s our reality.

Things changed when our family was asked to appear on the Fox reality show Trading Spouses. For this show, I spent a week living with a family in another state while their mom stayed with my husband Allan and daughter Sondra.

Even though I didn’t know the ages of the children, I packed an assortment of craft and activity supplies such as fabric crayons, wooden racecars to decorate, and even a parachute. Upon arriving at the new home, I discovered the three children (eight, twelve and seventeen) spent their entire summer days (14-16 hours) watching R-rated TV and videos. Breakfast was coffee. Around noon, the kids complained of headaches. Lunch was ice cream eaten directly from the carton.

Throughout the first two days, their dad kept telling me his eight-year-old daughter had ADHD, was hyperactive and a poor reader (in front of his daughter). It wasn’t a pleasant situation.

Turning The Tables

The rules of the show dictate that I fit into their lifestyle for the first two days and, on the third day, I declare, “Now we’ll do things MY way.”

The first change was turning off the TV. I bought fresh fruit and started serving breakfast. (Miraculously the headaches disappeared!) We went hiking and rode bikes. Friends came over and played with the parachute. The two younger kids made kaleidoscopes. Basically, they experienced a week of day camp with counselor Silvana. The very macho dad made constant negative comments about the things we were doing. He saw no reason to turn off the TV and join us. When I insisted he spend an hour alone with each of his kids, doing something fun, he refused. He called his twelve-year-old son a “sissy” for enjoying the craft project. Obviously his kids had never been to camp because he felt those games and skits were just for babies.

Throughout the next four days, the two younger kids kept asking if I had more things to do. We designated a shelf to display their crafty creations for their mom. The TV crew bought supplies because the family didn’t even have colored markers or construction paper. The so-called hyperactive eight-year old spent hours with me, simply reading the newspaper. (She had no age-appropriate books.)

Meanwhile Back At Home…

Back at my house, the new mom was shocked to find my husband and daughter actually enjoying each other. They joked, discussed politics and thankfully, didn’t Sumo wrestle on national TV. They took the new mom kayaking on Puget Sound. Each experience was new to her, since their family seldom even attended a community festival. My husband took her to a just-opened art museum that featured a chance to participate in hands-on art activities. She commented on the immaturity of adults trying to blend watercolors. “Crafts are only for pre-schoolers,” she stated. She also felt it was “unnatural” for Allan and Sondra to spend so much time together.

The Nation Decides

The program aired, showing Sondra scrap booking and the kids in my new family happily engaged in camp-type activities. (With their dad cussing in the background.) Almost every interview with the new mom focused on her saying how inappropriate it was for Sondra to do crafts or play games with her dad. “Sondra’s a 15 year old girl that should be reading Cosmo, not gluing stickers on paper!” she said.

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