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Summer Camps? A+, Canada!

Monsters I draw for Mark on the fridge, Ottawa, July 2018

I thought we had cleared up the misunderstanding.

Apparently not.

“You don’t need to take anything and certainly not a bed. It’s a DAY camp. You’re not sleeping over there, we’re picking you up at the end of the day. Same as school.”

“No marshmallows, sorry,” Feng adds teasingly.

Okay, it’s an easy mistake to make, really. Well, especially if you’re five.

For us, adults desperate for childcare, “you’re going to camp” means “we found you a City of Ottawa summer camp and we filled out the registration form before the deadline for once.” For Mark, “going to camp” meant… well, I’m not sure he understands the concept of camping, but he saw kids making campfire s’mores on TV so he wanted to go camping.

“Mark… I slept in shitty hotels, I slept in 16-bed dorms, I slept on several beaches, in planes, buses, trains and boats, I slept in parks. I slept in the street, once, with daddy. But I don’t camp, sorry.”


“Marshmallows aren’t that good, you know,” I add.

“Did you have some?”

“Have I ever had a marshmallow?” I pause. “Huh… actually, no, I don’t think so.”

Mark gives me a weird look, one that says, “I can’t take you seriously as a mother if you’ve never had a freaking marshmallow”.

“Well, it’s not really a French thing… we had other treats when I was a kid.”

Like jars of Nutella.

“They have them at Walmart,” he argues.

“Are we still on the marshmallows? Then ask yéye and năinai to buy you some,” I reply. “When you camp, you have to pee outside,” I add. “Also, there’s no TV.”


“I know. So yeah, no camping.”

I don’t have anything against camping but we’re backpackers, not campers. We don’t have camping gear for a start and also, I don’t feel the need to escape civilization.

“So tomorrow, you’re taking your lunchbox and your swimsuit but you don’t need your bed.”

We had no luck with the daycare system and I still don’t understand the Canadian school system but so far, we’ve had a very positive experience with day camps.

Canadians are good at day camps. The rules are straightforward—drop off your kid between 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m., pick up exhausted kid between 4:30 p.m. and 5 p.m., no peanuts, have a great day. There’s no school bus bullshit, no volunteers needed, no stupid bake sales and no educational buzzwords I don’t understand.

Why can’t school be like that?

And now, it is with shame that I have to confess one of the dumbest comments I’ve ever made.

Long before we were even thinking of having a child, long even before my friends had kids, I was standing in line at Tim Hortons—that’s how long ago it was, I was still new enough to go to Tim Hortons. When I paid for my cookies, I was asked for a donation to the Tim Horton Children’s Foundation camps. I politely declined.

“What the hell,” I remember saying to Feng. “I give to the food bank, I don’t mind supporting programs to fight poverty… but camps? Seriously? Do kids need to go to camp that badly? What’s next? Sponsor a kid to go to Disneyland? Sponsor a teen for a beach Spring Break?”

Idiot. Because actually, camps are the solution to a social issue. See, childless me had forgotten one detail. When school’s out, summer can be a financial and logistical nightmare for working parents. This isn’t Europe when many people can take a few weeks off in July or August. This is Canada where many employees have the minimum two weeks of paid vacation time per year. So yeah, camps are kind of important if you don’t want to have to take unpaid time off or quit your job to babysit your kids at home.

And now that we are parents, and I’m really happy we have the option to send Mark to a day camp.

Since last week, you can see groups of kids with staff that look barely older than them all over the city. Some are going to the swimming pool, some are going to the park. The kids are the usual mix of ethnicities and styles you see in Canada. They look happy.

Mark seems happy with his camp experience too. He eats, brings back silly crafts, learns a few bad words and new expressions. After his first day, he asked to go again and he was delighted to learn he was indeed signed up for a whole week.

He won’t go all summer, though. We have plans—and a plane to catch soon.

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