A summer without camp

For Our Kids Media

“This is obviously a difficult day for all of us who love camps,” wrote the Ontario Camps Association in a note to its members on May 19. The government of Ontario announced in a press conference that overnight camps will not be allowed to operate for the duration of the 2020 season, with further decisions yet to be made about day camps. For all, this will be the first summer without camp in session since they were founded. For most, that’s decades. For some, it’s literally approaching a century or more. 

What families are facing

There’s a broad range of opinion and, certainly, we’ll hear all of it in the coming days. It’s important to remember that, well, it’s complicated, with more factors than most of us are aware. That doesn’t diminish the disappointment. Many parents were seeing it as a welcome and long-awaited respite from what has been an extremely difficult time. For campers and staff, it would have been a chance to be normal again, or at least something like it. For all, the thought of a summer without camp is hard to bear. 

What camps know, however, is that opening safely, in a way that could offer a quality camper experience, was at best far more easily said than done. “The irony is that camps are the antithesis of social distancing,” said Mark Diamond, vice-president of the Ontario Camps Association and co-director and co-owner of Camp Manitou, as reported in The Star. “You feel such guilt in pulling away a summer that is so necessary, and then you go, ‘but this could be my own kid, would I really send them to camp?’”

Overnight camps—which the initial notice from the Ford government was principally about—operate for the most part in rural areas. If they all were to operate at capacity, in Ontario alone it would mean in excess of 400,000 campers arriving in successive waves to communities with very little health-care infrastructure, and which could be overwhelmed in an instant. Add to that the staff, the food deliveries, the parents dropping off and picking up, the maintenance staff. Consider the bussing companies, tasked with getting campers safely up and back in busses that weren’t built with distancing in mind. It’s a lot of people moving around in vulnerable ways within a particularly vulnerable part of our world. 

What camps are facing

For overnight camps in Ontario at least, the difficult decision has been made for them, and they won’t be operating. Which means that they face the biggest challenge of all: fiscal survival. Margins are thin with little cash reserve. Operating costs are huge, and the time to offset them is the summer. Moreover, many of the costs are met prior to the summer even starting. Not only are camps going to lose revenue, they have already conceivably spent the fees that they received from registrations in anticipation of the 2020 season. Once the shock of a summer without camp settles in, parent’s thoughts will understandably turn to refunds. The fact is, however, that much of the money is no longer there. Finding a way to provide refunds, for some camps, will mean literally the end of camp, not just this year, but forever. For some, sadly, that’s an outcome that has already been realised. 

What you can do

Camp is important for what it is, and for what it means in our lives. It’s not like a cruise or a trip to Disney World, where you go once (or, ok, maybe twice). Camp is, truly, for life. It’s a relationship between people, and across generations, who share the values, the traditions, and the priorities that each camp embodies. A summer without it will be hard, but a life without it, we’d venture, would be much, much harder. 

That’s why it’s important to consider how we all respond. First, camps need our support—staff have given their time and talents to preparing for a summer that, ultimately, won’t happen. Second, they need our understanding, this by considering our options when it comes to reimbursement. Instead of a refund, it could mean accepting  a credit toward future programs. Better yet, it could mean offering 2020 fees as a donation to help support the life and longevity of the camp itself, helping ensure that, come 2021, there’s a camp to go back to.   

Not all families have that kind of flexibility, and camps will understand that, too. But this is a moment like the one that ends the holiday movie It’s a Wonderful Life. There’s a run on the bank, and while George Bailey is understanding, the community is, too. Because they know it’s not about a moment, but life, and in the end they save the little ol’ savings and loan. For us, now, for real, it’s time to think in those terms. Because the alternative, frankly, is unthinkable. 

We’re here. Get used to it.

(for CBC Kids)

Steve Colbert once said that stay-at-home dads are “against nature’s laws.” Your grandmother probably thinks that, too.

The world that we know today is, of course, different than that of yesteryear. People don’t smoke in hospitals, and the moon is no longer a very interesting destination; it’s illegal to strike a dog, or a child, or a match on an airplane. In all, we don’t live in Mayberry anymore, and we can chalk that up to social change, mostly of the good kind.

Still, as long as there are Hooters restaurants and bowling leagues, there will be pockets of our culture that remain relatively untouched by the advances of the day. Parenting is one of them. Step out with an infant and you step into a world where old stereotypes and habits die hard and where gender roles retain a good whiff of the 1950s.

At the playgroups, mommies’ groups, in the parks and the libraries, by and large the women are still doing it by themselves. Whether out of fear, peer pressure or just having other things to do, men aren’t.

Of course, there is progress. Now we think “Involved Dad.” (We don’t say, “Mr. Mom” anymore.) After all, statistics show that the rate of paternity leave has jumped 60 per cent since 2004, although a mere five per cent of fathers are not working while the mother is employed. The statistics are silent on which of these fathers are jobless by choice. Apparently 60 per cent of not very many is still not very many. Which means that if you are Involved Dad, you’re on your own. You’re also likely unemployed.

Dads out and about
When I recently took time off to care for my son, James, I didn’t know any of that and neither did my neighbour, Brad. Like me, he decided (read: wife runs own business and makes more money than he does) to take time off to care for his newborn (read: we were both doing what we were told).

It was spring and we strapped our respective infants on our respective backs (my backpack is the upgrade; his is the one that didn’t test as well) and set off for lunch downtown. We were feeling pretty good about things, and why shouldn’t we? Out and about with the fruit of our loins and all that. “Look at us,” we thought, “we’re Involved Dads!”

No sooner were we in the door of the restaurant when the snickering and the glances began. The hostess wasn’t much help, either. “Where are your wives?!” she asked, roughly with the force of a sneeze. Her reaction, part confusion and part hilarity, took a bit of wind out of our sails, if you get my meaning.

We’re here! Get used to us!
The reality is that guys with babies in the middle of the week and with no women in sight isn’t quite enough to stop traffic, but it’s close. At the Legion we got a round of applause, which was maybe surprising, given whatever you might otherwise think of the Legion. Middle-aged women swarmed us at a restaurant. “You guys are awesome!” one said. “My husband didn’t even change a diaper!” said another to a round of knowing nods. There, and everywhere else we went, people seemed to have something to say, with many of the comments falling within some predictable categories. The unsupported, bitter moms: “It’s about time!” The doubters: “You don’t do this every day, do you?” Those who vote conservative: “Now I think I’ve seen it all!” The retired school teachers: “I think this is great!”

You think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. This is the world you and I both live in. People notice and remark because you are noticeable and remarkable. And there’s a reason: women don’t think you are capable of doing this and men wonder why you would try.

The Bottom Line
Ultimately, being Involved Dad is like going off on a peacekeeping mission or installing a ceiling fan: it takes courage and fortitude, but that’s no excuse for not doing it. In time, and probably sooner than we think, people will look back – I’m utterly convinced of this – and wonder why men didn’t do it more. When they do, we’ll be able to gloat a little, noting that we were ahead of the pack. That’s something. And, by pitching in, we’re also taking time with our children that we will cherish – I’m convinced of this, too – for the rest of our lives. Of course, some days we think that maybe we really should be somewhere else, and that perhaps there is something we could be doing that is better suited to our skill sets. But there’s a conventional wisdom here that’s worth repeating: When the chips are ready to be counted, we probably won’t wish that we had worked more, made more money or impressed more strangers. We’ll wish we had spent more time with our children and that there were more giggles to coax with tickles or smiles. Sadly, it isn’t forever, so we’re right to grab the opportunity while we have the chance.

House of Horrors

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, October 2014.

When we were young, cooties were the height of disgust and fear. Never seen but horrifically imagined, they were the playground equivalent to serial killers. When playing tag, “cooties” added a dimension of engagement that was hard to duplicate. You heard the word and you ran, the only sound being that of your heart pounding in your ears.

Becoming a grownup marks an important transition in our relationship with cooties, namely an inability to flee. When cooties arrive in the house – and we now know it’s not just one thing, but lots of things, and most of them are real – it’s our responsibility to stay close and to deal with them in the knowledge that, when it comes to our kids, we’re the only ones who will.

I once told my daughter when combing her hair for nits that this is the ultimate expression of my love. Hugs are easy. Nits are gross.

And there is another transition that comes with parenting, and that’s the understanding that cooties in one form or another are normal, common and, despite any visceral reaction we may have at first glance, running away requires a lot more energy than simply dealing with them.

What’s eating you?

PEDICULUS HUMANUS CAPITIS (head lice)

“It’s got this negative ick factor,” says Dawn Mucci, “and people do tend to panic.” Dawn is the owner and founder of Lice Squad, which is a public health equivalent of Ghostbusters. In that role she spends her day fi nding and eradicating lice from our children’s heads, and educating people about how to deal with the wee bugs. “You can probably get rid of lice within the day as long as you have a good comb,” she says in order to underscore the idea industrial grade pesticides don’t have to be, nor should be, our fi rst-line defense. In fact, Dawn has made it her mission to demonstrate that we don’t need pesticides at all, and educates parents to be proactive and preventive rather than reactive and demented. “What we really try to do is make fun of head lice. We’re all going to get it at some time or another, so get the education, get it gone, and let’s not make such a big panic about it.”

> Ok, now what? Lice aren’t dangerous and they don’t spread disease, so the only reason you’ll want to get on top of it is because most schools have a no-nit policy. Excessive itching can also lead to a possible skin infection, so arm yourself with a good nit comb, a bottle of olive oil or some other kind of lubricant, and start combing.

Fun fact: Head lice have evolved specifically to live on the heads of people, and there is no other environment in the world where they can survive, something that has been the case for the past three million years. Where we go, they go. Kind of makes you feel wanted, doesn’t it?

PEDICULUS HUMANUS HUMANUS (body lice)

Yup, crabs. The lice so nice they named’em twice. They can remain dormant in a summer camp mattress. Believe me. They are a slightly different insect than head lice, though equally well adapted. If you’re not an entymologist, this is the distinguishing factor: they lay their eggs on fabric, not hair or skin. Good to know …

> Ok, now what? The less said, the better. Wash kid, bedding, towels, clothes in soap designed for the purpose.

SARCOPTES SCABIEI (scabies)

In dogs, cats, wild boars and apes it’s called mange. In people, it’s scabies. Whatever you call it, it’s a colony of invisible mites: the females burrow into the skin to lay eggs, which then become nymphs, and then emerge onto the surface of the skin as adults. You get the mites through direct skin-to-skin contact, and the result is an intense itch, redness, and in some, a strong allergic reaction.

> Ok, now what? Scabies is the third most common skin disorder in children next to athletes’ foot and impetigo, though it often goes unrecognized. Go to the doctor, fi ll the prescription and use it on everyone in the house, including the dog.

Fun fact: With its discovery in 1687, scabies became the first human disease with a known cause. And we still haven’t gotten rid of it.

INFANTILE SEBORRHOEIC DERMATITIS (cradle cap)

Outside of the winter months, if a baby is wearing a hat you can be pretty sure that it’s hiding something. Namely, a bacterial colony. Whatever cutesy-poo name you choose to call it – milk crust, honeycomb disease, cradle cap – it appears as thick, crusty, cracked brown scales, and it’s as disgusting as it is ubiquitous. Nearly half of all newborns get at least a mild form.

> Ok, now what? For most kids, gentle washing with a mild soap over the course of a number of days will take care of it. No biggie at all.

What is that?

TINEA PEDIS (athlete’s foot)

Were you to Google “athlete’s foot” (please don’t actually do this, or if you do, don’t say that I didn’t warn you) and click on the images tab, you’d be surprised. It’s hideous. And that’s what I saw one day when my daughter took off her socks. Zombie feet. (Cue the music from the shower scene of Hitchcock’s Psycho.) It’s a fungus thriving on the moist, supple flesh of your child.

> Ok, now what? Spray, spray, and spray again, and a couple times more. You’re good. The only thing that will remain is the memory, which you’ll be stuck with for the rest of your life.

CONJUNCTIVITIS (pinkeye) 

Pinkeye can be transmitted – as you most likely already know – at a furious rate. There was an outbreak in Korea in 2007 that went from a few cases to 20,000 in the space of a week. They closed schools because of it.

> Ok, now what? Keep your child home from school in order to avoid communicating pinkeye to others, and apply antibiotic eye drops. Discourage kids from touching or rubbing their eyes as well.

IMPETIGO CONTAGIOSA (impetigo)

Because impetigo can run through a classroom quicker than a rumour, it is known in some circles as school sores. It’s a bacterial skin infection more common in children because they bump into each other a lot. It’s also gross: weeping, open sores, blisters and scabs. It’s a great look for Halloween, but otherwise, not so good.

> Ok, now what? See the doctor. The treatment is quick and painless, but the child will need antibiotics, either ointment or tablets, that aren’t available over the counter. Otherwise, the best prevention is to keep your child’s nails clipped and clean and tell him, whatever it is, don’t scratch it.

Quick Tip: With the head back, place a drop in the inner corner of your child’s eye and then have your kiddo blink several times. It’s easier than applying to an open eye, as kids get squeamish when they see it coming. Wouldn’t you?

It’s not what you think…

DERMATOPHYTOSIS (ringworm)

For some reason, wrestlers get it statistically more than any other group. It also isn’t a worm but a fungus growing on the skin. Round, raised and red, ringworm is also one of the reasons why kids should wear shoes – people who go barefoot are more at risk.

> Ok, now what? Get some antifungal cream. You may need a prescription for something stronger if over-the-counter medication doesn’t work.

VERRUCA PLANTARIS (plantar warts)

We tend to overreact to so many things, though the gap between the risk and revulsion when it comes to warts is particularly vast. I know. I’ve had plantar warts, and if anyone sees them, it’s bad. We think they’re hard to get rid of, which actually isn’t the case. Plantar warts are self-limiting, which means that in most cases they will go away on their own in time.

> Ok, now what? There are lots of options from freezing, to burning with a mild acid, to laser treatment. But duct tape actually does work. Clean the area, remove the callous and dead skin with a pumice stone, and cover the area with a piece of duct tape. Repeat every few days and, after a couple weeks, you’ll be telling everybody how much you love duct tape.

HERPES SIMPLEX (cold sores) 

About 90 percent of the adult population tests positive for the virus that causes cold sores, though the majority will never exhibit symptoms. For those who do, however, it’s no fun at all, precisely because cold sores appear on the face, right out there in plain view. They can be caused by contact (such as kissing). The virus is incurable, so even when any lesions have resolved, it remains dormant within the body and will re-emerge again after a period of months or years, most typically at the time of school photos and the prom.

> Ok, now what? Leave it alone: tell your child not to pick it or touch it. Many over-the-counter remedies will reduce the symptoms, though it’s also worth raising the issue with your doctor, as there are prescription treatments that will help reduce its visibility.

Father of three Glen Herbert has at tended to pinkeye, lice, impetigo, athlete’s foot, broken bones, broken hearts and throw-up.

Is children’s lit as good as it used to be?

(ParentsCanada; CBC)

You might be forgiven for wondering what planet we’re living on when you read kids’ books today. Often it seems that excitement only comes from big things, big people and exotic places, which can make you long for the books of our youth: Harriet spying on the grocery clerks; Peter winning Dribble the turtle at a birthday party; the Great Brain’s latest swindle. The books that were popular for the under-10 set in the ’70s and ’80s seemed…different.

Bosom Buddies: How dads can bond with their babies

(for ParentsCanada) Moms and dads do a lot of things (ahem) differently, and when baby arrives, bonding and attachment are often the first two of them. And that’s a good thing.

Not long after the birth of my second child, I took him to visit his great grandparents. When he got fussy, as newborns inevitably do, my grandmother said, wait for it, “Oh, he needs his mom!” Did you hear that? That tone? It may not come across here, but I sure heard it, and I don’t think it was just a lack of sleep and general touchiness.

What she was implying was that I was at fault for taking him away from his mom for the day. The feeling is that there are maternal bonds, mysterious perhaps, but they are there, and that anyone who gets in the way of those bonds, like the hunter between the cub and the mama bear, watch out; chins will wag.

Certainly there are many who believe the basic principle to be true, that there is something different about moms and babies, and that moms have more naturally assigned bonds with the baby, right out of the hopper, than men do. For one thing, they have breastfeeding and, frankly, that alone can go a long way in fomenting a relationship.

It’s a lot like the CEO and the mailroom clerk who come in after a smoke break slapping each other’s backs. That’s what frequent breaks can do. Us non-smokers simply look on, wishing we could share in that level of collegiality with the executive suite.

So it is with moms and babies. They have their milk breaks throughout the day, just to toss it around. They’re buds. First comes bonding But, there is more to the story, of course, such as this:

“About half of all parents, male and female, don’t have any particular fond feelings for their babies when they’re born,” says Dr. Armin Brock.

“We’re constantly fed the idea that we fall in love with our babies immediately, and most people don’t.” Good to know? I think it really is, because it’s that initial hump that knocks a lot of new dads out of their stance and it carries on from there. Dr. Nancy Cohen is a specialist in child development, director of research at the Hincks-Dellcrest Institute and a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto.

She says “men often aren’t interested in children until they can be talking and be active. All of a sudden the baby may turn away, which can feel like a snub, when in actual fact, they probably just need a break.” All of this against a backdrop of mom and baby getting on like BFFs.

Use what you have What are dads to do? “Just try to relax,” says Dr. Cohen. “You don’t have to work so hard.” Certainly, part of this is the need to realize that it’s not a competition. No, dads can’t breastfeed as effectively as moms, but we’ve got other charms, to be sure.

Remember Harry Harlow’s monkey mother experiments from psychology class? He showed that baby monkeys, when given an impossible choice within a heart-wrenching set of experiments, will choose the warm furry “mom” over food. And, really, lots of guys have warm and furry pretty well wrapped up. Just saying. It’s quantity not quality

“What I recommend is just hanging around,” says Dr. Cohen. “You know, having the baby in your lap or in a baby seat, and just observing the baby and responding. Babies coo, and you coo back. Babies imitate you even hours after birth, such as sticking out your tongue.”

The old saw that says it’s about quality not quantity isn’t true, at least not in any mutually exclusive way. The more time you spend together, the better – it’s that simple.

KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE

“Like any relationship it needs to build over time,” says Dr. Cohen. Babies grow into kids, who grow into teens, who grow into adults. And, actually, while I don’t have studies to show any of this, it seems to me that the idea of “daddy’s girl” is indicative of how well we do attachment over the long term.

My father-in-law once saw me hand my crying baby daughter, unable to console her, to my wife, whereupon the babe calmed immediately. He turned to me and said, “Well, Mom has her now, but you’ll have her in the end.”

BE YOURSELF

“Different people have different ways of relating,” says Dr. Cohen, and that’s a good point, too. Some people sing, others not so much. Mom will have her way, and you should feel free to have yours. Parents are different and they’re supposed to be. It’s one of the reasons, I suppose, that your partner was attracted to you: you’re a guy, you’re different, you do things differently. I don’t really need to say this, of course, but once the baby is out, some moms seem to lapse a bit on this point. They get their nose into things and keep it there. Are there times when we’d like to say, “Ok, back off.” Yes.

Should we say it in those terms? Probably not. But you should find a gentle way to say it. You’re your child’s dad, and that’s a person your child really wants to get to know.

 

Second Time Around

(ParentsCanada; CBC)

For most people looking down the barrel of retirement, the thought of having another baby isn’t one they’re willing to entertain. Yet when Steve Heming said “I do” three years ago, he also said “I will.” For wife Tammy, having kids was always in the cards. Sure enough, nine months later, Steve welcomed his third child, Lucy, into the world. Then a year later, Thomas arrived. Steve is 58. This past year, while Steve was home changing diapers and singing lullabies, his eldest son, Shawn, 26, was a tree planting foreman in B.C., and his daughter, Kerry, 24, was a concierge at a yoga studio in Toronto. Continue reading Second Time Around

Choosing your baby’s gender: Separating science from fiction

(ParentsCanada)

In 1996, Monique and Scott Collins were among the first couples in North America to choose the gender of their child. It’s called family balancing and they took advantage of medical technologies that, to some, represent a great stride forward in family planning. In an interview some years later, Monique said “After having two boys I thought they needed a sister.” Continue reading Choosing your baby’s gender: Separating science from fiction

Making the most of every day

(Kruger Brothers online)

Skip Vetter was a very dear friend of the Kruger Brothers, one who offered his talents to a number of their projects, including the cover art for the second volume disks of the Carolina Scrapbook. More so, he was a friend and ardent supporter. Yesterday, Skip passed away from the complications of cancer.

Continue reading Making the most of every day