Go to Camp, Make Beaver

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Mark’s beaver, Ottawa, July 2017

I’ve just spent five minutes laughing at a beaver. Not just any random rodent hanging out in the neighbourhood, but Mark’s paper-bag beaver, with its crooked eyes, Canadian flag and goofy teeth.

No, I’m not high, I promise—it’s not legal yet, anyway.

Shortly before midnight, I went downstairs for the final end-of-day cleanup that invariably involves picking up small LEGO pieces and bringing back leftovers TV snacks to the kitchen. Mark’s beaver had fallen under the chair. I put it on the table, looked at it properly and hilarity ensued.

I shared the moment with Feng, still working at his computer upstairs.

“I can’t think of anything more Canadian than making a beaver at the summer camp,” I admitted.

“What do you think they do at Americans camps?”

“Target practice?” I suggested.

“And in French camps…”

“ … kids bake bread and harvest grapes,” I completed.

Late June, when it became obvious that the school year was indeed over and we needed to keep Mark busy and happy for the next little while, we were stuck. Our respective workloads ebb and flow but there was no downtime yet. And unfortunately, I don’t have one of these fun “take your child to work” jobs. With my current client, when I go on site, I have to lock my phone and all electronic devices in a safe outside the office, so bringing a four-year-old along with my skills is not an option.

Besides, I doubt Mark would find my work fascinating. “You’re good at this,” he noted the other day, watching me typing furiously on my keyboard. “What are you doing?” “I’m editing the following sentence: ’the organization cannot support the operation of such operating procedures in the specific operational context’ because if I read “opera-something’ one more time, my brain will explode and my eyes will bleed.” “Oh, okay. Huh, is it time for my story now?” he asked, not quite willing to help me find synonyms.

“Camp!” every parent around us suggested. Camp? I had an irrational problem with the terminology. Refugee camps, concentration camps, boot camps, work camps … in French, the word “camp” doesn’t exemplify “summer fun.” I mean, even in English the dictionary defines “camp” as “a place with temporary accommodations of huts, tents, or other structures, typically used by soldiers, refugees, prisoners, or travellers.”

But inexplicably, “summer camps” is the local term and yes, they are an institution for Canadian families, providing a fun environment for kids and relief for working parents.

So that first Tuesday of July, as our Southern neighbours were celebrating Independence Day, I was once again entrusting strangers with the care of Mark at way-too-early-o’clock (fun fact: if you weren’t a morning person before having kids, you don’t magically embrace an early start once you become a parent). First daycare/school/camp drop-off is my parenting trademark. I suspect if Feng was witnessing any sign of separation anxiety, he would drive home with Mark in the back seat.

I wasn’t quite sure Mark understood the concept of summer camp, although I’d argue I sold it beautifully—eh, I work in communications!—with the promise of fun and friends. Well, to be honest, that was the name of the camp, “fun’n’friends,” which is 100% parent approved and a hell of a lot more marketable than “drugs and rock’n’roll” or “little terrorist training camp”—although these could appeal to a certain audience, I guess.

We stepped into a room of the community centre where a bunch of kids were already playing. I signed Mark in. “See the people with a green shirt? They’re the teachers.” I was happy to see that they were young and alleluia, the staff included a couple of guys. Awesome! Since North America apparently believes any male interested in working with kids is a potential pedophile, Mark’s former daycares and current school have very few male employees.

“Go ahead, you can check out the toys and games!” I encouraged.

Mark took a few tentative steps toward the kids, all sitting on the wooden floor, playing in groups. He came back to me.

“I … yes, I checked.”

“Go play, then!”

Mark stood there, probably hoping he was invisible and I was going to forget why we were here.

“I know, it’s hard when you don’t know anyone. But they didn’t know each other an hour ago, they just arrived a bit earlier and started playing.”

“Mommy … these kids look big…” Mark whispered accusingly, as if I had deliberately set him up for failure. Okay, he was right. Some of the kids were much taller, since the camp was for 4-to-6-year-old kids. At this age, a couple of years makes a difference.

“Look, join the LEGO group. I promise I won’t leave until you’re okay.”

Mark sat with a group and started building something. I walked over to him.

“Can I go now?”



“YES! I just told you!” he replied, exasperated.

Like for every first day—first day at daycare, first day at school—I was nervous until pick up time. I shouldn’t have worried—Mark didn’t want to leave. “You’ll be back tomorrow,” I promised. The lunch box was completely empty (YES! Finally! When you give kids proper breaks, they EAT!) and Mark had made a few crafts.

And here we are now, a few days into the camp experience. We have a new pile of crafts (sigh… I had just sorted out the ones from school…), Mark has a couple of scratches and bruises, we hear names of new friends, he insists on playing games we don’t know and inserts “eh” in his sentences.

Canadians do camps right. I’ll give them that.

Mark’s beaver, Ottawa, July 2017


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. OK, so first off at midnight I’m sleeping, and have been for at least 2 hours (I’m a granny!). Second: the other day the Scotsman asked me what pple did with their kids all summer. Apart from our neighbors, they have 3 daughters and the dad is louder than all 3. They spend all day and all night in their backyard. Summer camp! I answered. Glad I was right;)
    Cute beaver, I would totally laugh too at the Canadianness of it all.
    And having male teacher / camp people or whatever they are called is great! It’s a good role model for kids, especially boys who may not have a father figure (or a healthy one for that matter).

    • Summer camps are definitely popular around here. I’m sure parents try to take a week or two off with the kids, but realistically, this is Canada. People don’t take a month off like many do in France.

      I have no idea how your neighbour can keep three kids entertained in the backyard… sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. I’m all for spending time with your kids, but you need a plan and activities. Kids don’t just “hang out” for a whole day.

  2. Martin Penwald on

    You’re misinformed. It is perfectly legal to be high in Canada. Indeed, not yet with THC, but access to oxycontin, methadone, ketamine and so much more are completely and legally possible.
    In France, kids were send in colonies de vacances («Les jolies colonies de vacances, merci Papa, merci Maman … » de Pierre Perret), but I’ve never been in one. And for a daycare equivalent, there was « le centre aéré ». Never been there either. I was staying at home with my mom going to the beach almost every day or going a week on the road with my dad.

    • Blague à part, maybe I’m weird but I don’t find getting high appealing. It’s the “losing control” part that bothers me…

      Like you, I’ve never been to a colo or a centre aéré. We used to go to my grand-parents’ summer house (… this post-War generation was still able to afford real estate on a small salary!) by the beach. I liked it as a kid but I was very bored there as a teen. I’m the oldest by far, second one would be my sister, six years younger. Brother and cousins were annoying babies back then. I guess you had a partner in crime to play with you 😉

      • Martin Penwald on

        Same thing about drugs, including alcohol.
        Yeah, holidays of these time are good memories. And now, I’m always on holidays.

    • Il y a vraiment de tout! On a opté pour le camp “basique” vu l’âge de Mark et le fait que c’était sa première expérience (et aussi, qu’on s’y est pris à la dernière minute…). Après, il y a les camps de la ville, que je trouve très abordables pour le coup (contrairement à une garderie ou même aux activités avant/après l’école). Dans le privé, ça dépend.

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