The kids went into full hysteria last week at the mall when they spotted a display of backpacks. Printed above the display, in something like 500 point type was “Back to School”. My son immediately began shrieking and keening in wordless melodramatic anguish. My daughter, for once, did not tell him to shut up and stop acting like an idiot in the store. “But we’ve only had two months,” they both protested. “TWO MONTHS, and it’s all gone and we didn’t get to do ANYTHING!” And so began a new round of their summer-long complaint about “having” to go to camp.

Never mind that it’s only day camp and that they make new friends there and reconnect with last year’s; never mind that their days are spent swimming, fishing, playing kickball, volleyball and field hockey. Or that a major field trip is part of every weekly program – complete with a ride on a motor coach. Or that they come home day in and day out with tie-dyed T-shirts, gimp bracelets, and photos of their (now, alas, sunken) entry in the cardboard boat competition. That they are freckled and tanned, respectively, and covered with hard-fought scrapes and banged-up shins and it’s all such a terrible burden on them. As a working parent, I’m not open to suggestions that they just stay at home, they can take care of themselves. They can. Really. Why don’t you trust us? Which camp they attend is negotiable; attendance itself is not.

I’d tried pointing out that the alternative – what we called one year “Camp Ima” – was a disaster. Oddly, this is not how they remember it. I’d taken the summer off and we’d made a list of all the cool things we could do and designed our own summer camp. Among the things we would do: Learn archery, build a cob oven, raise a vegetable garden, swim in a nearby river, go for bike rides along the rail trail. We’d make videos to share on YouTube, create shadow puppets and cook meals together from our very own family cookbook. Good god, what was I thinking?

The first day of Camp Ima found me vainly trying to get the kids out of bed. After approximately an hour of this, I found that I no longer wanted them to get out of bed. When they did finally drift downstairs, they were already fighting. Our first activity of the day was mediation and blame assignment, after which we repaired to the back yard for the first archery lesson. I began with the safety lesson. I must have laid it on a bit thick because when I finished and handed my son the bow, he shrank and cowered and wouldn’t touch the bloody thing. Diva crossed her arms, sucked her teeth and asked if she could go to her friend’s house.

The next day’s bike ride had to be cancelled due to the kids having left their newly tuned bikes lying in the front yard, from which they were promptly stolen. Instead we did “sign painting” and posted pathetic and ultimately useless appeals to please return our bikes around the neighborhood.

Vegetable gardening got off to a somewhat more promising start. Both kids enjoyed going to the garden center for the spindly little starts we would use and to pick out gardening gloves. “Now,” I said, as I loaded everything into the car, “when we get back, we can’t just stick these things in the ground – we’ll need to get the garden ready for them.”  “Okay” they said, cheerfully.

“Alright”, I said, when we were assembled at the edge of the garden plot, “first we need to loosen the soil, then mark our rows, then build up the rows…” “LET GO! IMA! HE WON’T LET GO OF THE HOE!” “WELL, HOW COME SHE GETS THAT ONE?!” “STOP IT, YOU IDIOT! *smack*

I did manage to get a garden planted that year, while the kids watched TV.

As the summer progressed, it transpired that my son recused himself from any activity that involved touching anything moist, squishy, dirty, sticky, gooey, limp or vaguely defined as “ewey”. My daughter positively reveled in all those textures but wouldn’t stick around long enough to do anything beyond squeeze the dough, throw dirt clods or let the raw egg ooze through her fingers. We completed not a single project, wrote off any number without even attempting them, and spent almost every minute bickering.

In spite of this, as this past summer approached, the kids begged me to do Camp Ima again. “Why?” I said. “You hated it.” They both looked shocked. “What!? It was great!” “Yeah, remember our garden?” “And cooking dinner for Mumma every night?” I stood there, dumbfounded, as the two of them launched into a giddy recounting of a golden, laughter and adventure-filled summer I did not recognize. Both kids draped themselves around me and hugged. “Please, Ima? Let’s do it again this summer?” “Yeah Ima,” my daughter said, “Camp Ima was the funnest camp, ever!”