Getting ready for summer 2016: I'm hunched over my laptop. I've got about five different windows open in my browser, jumping from one website to another. Our wall calendar, the one already marked up with all the days my husband will be out of town for work (spoiler alert: a lot), is spread next to me. I'm scribbling in pencil and thick, black marker -- pencil for possible activities, marker for already booked.
There's soccer camp -- for the 8-year-old and the 4-year-old. And football camp (yes, for those of you following along, I am letting the 8-year-old go to Ole Miss football camp). The taekwondo school has a summer program for both of them. Maybe tennis lessons or the new swim team forming at our health club? The older one's not interested in basketball camp or baseball camp, but maybe he should go for the experience?
Three science camps all seem to be happening the same two weeks in June, and he came home from school with flyers about all of them. Then, of course, sleep-away camp, and I guess I should be grateful that my second-grader is so confident that he demanded to go away for even longer this year. Our church is doing something for a week in there, and at least it's free, since I'm looking at the numbers on my calculator and feeling woozy.
And somewhere in there, we have to fit in the grandparents: one week in Alabama, one week in North Carolina, both more than a seven-hour drive away.
It's taken me an hour, but I have everything penciled in, even the weeks that overlap, to see what fits together. It's Jenga for parents.
OK, if we do everything we've talked about, that leaves ... maybe six unstructured days. All summer. I toss the calendar on the floor and throw the marker at the wall.
Summer 1984: I just finished second grade. It's hot. My mom, a teacher, is home for the whole summer. No more babysitter! Every day goes like this: eat breakfast, then head outside with my sisters. Climb a tree. Play in the treehouse. Get in trouble for going too far down into the woods to the creek. "Help" in the garden, a.k.a. play in the dirt and find bugs. Make necklaces with clover flowers. Try to figure out how to make a blade of grass do that whistling thing. Crawl under the muscadine vines and pretend we're in a cave. Ride bikes. Create a dangerous game involving a wagon hurtling down a hill. Get skinned up and do something else.
Come inside at lunch and eat a tomato sandwich while watching a "Perry Mason" rerun, because we don't have cable. The younger girls are supposed to nap. I attack my stack of library books that we check out every week and keep track of on a chart. Get lost in that book for a while. When rest time is over, head back outside and do it all again until the lightning bugs come out. Catch a few and come in for dinner.
Of course, we went to the beach or maybe even a longer trip in there. We'd go hiking up in the Blue Ridge sometimes, usually when my mom wanted to visit her hometown. I went to sleep-away camp once I got a little older. And once we hit high school, sure, there were summer programs and sports camps.
But when I was 8, the summer stretched out before me languorously. I didn't have to do anything at all. Some days, I read all day long. Some weeks, I realized I hadn't had a bath in several days, unless a swimming pool counted.
I did not ever go to soccer camp. I was still captain of a team that made the state playoffs in high school. I'm not even sure soccer camp for 8-year-olds existed in 1980s North Carolina.
I suffered no ill effects from my unstructured summers. On the contrary, I think I'm better for it.
Why do we consider sports camps, sports clinics and academic training in the summer just mandatory parts of being a "good parent" now?
Far from helping them excel at these activities later in life, researchers say being overscheduled -- especially in the summer -- can actually harm kids.
Of course, I'm coming at this argument as someone who doesn't have to work in the summer, or who can work from home. Friends of mine don't have that option -- they're relying on day camps for childcare this summer while they work.
And even that position is privileged: Though the price tag can be a little stifling, these friends can afford those camps. Many families struggle to find other options. In my little town, the Boys & Girls Club is one choice, as is a low-cost summer program at the city rec center, but that fills up quickly.
Estimates I've seen show 60 percent of the kids at my son's elementary school receive free or reduced-cost breakfast and lunch. For many of their parents, the concern is finding childcare through the summer, not whether their precious snowflake is going to get a 10-year head start on college scholarships.
So let's be real: The whole summer camp/clinic/overscheduling problem is a beast that privileged parents created, the same way we created the $600 kid's birthday party. Neither of which are necessary to have a good time.
The day after I threw the calendar on the floor, I asked my son to give me his top four activities for the summer. First on the list? Visiting both sets of his grandparents.
I picture him crawling under the muscadine vine, playing in my old treehouse and tromping through the woods with my dad.
Now that's a summer enrichment program.
Angela Moore Atkins teaches journalism at the University of Mississippi. Her work has appeared in the Tampa Bay Times and Garden & Gun.