kids playing tug of war

It's just starting to feel like spring, but summer is right around the corner—and for parents of school-age kids that means it's freak-out time. What-oh-what will we do with our kids all day every day for 10 weeks straight?! If both parents work, that free "child care" the school day provides is gone and your after-school program is probably on hiatus, too. And even if you have a part- or full-time stay-at-home parent, you likely want some sort of day camp to help fill the hours. I'm all for the nostalgic days of yesteryear when kids roamed free in packs and entertained themselves all summer long, but it seems rare these days and not something most of us can count on. Instead we must cobble together day camps, playdates, babysitters, and whatever else we can come up with–and afford. It gives me a panic attack, it really does.

A recent article offered ways to save on summer camp and child care, but as with most of these articles, it wasn't very practical or inventive. Don't we already know to shop around for the best camp prices, coordinate a carpool, and hire the best babysitter for your buck? And if you didn't sign up for a dependent-care flexible spending account in December of last year, that ship has sailed. Plus, I can't imagine trying to get neighborhood nannies or babysitters to organize a "camp lite." That sounds like a lot of work, and something that might be reasonable for one week, not 10.

My husband and I and the parents in our neighborhood start thinking about summer camps in February. Emails start flitting back and forth between moms and days trying to figure out whose kids are going where and when so our kids can have a buddy or two at day camp. You've gotta work around family vacations, which means you actually have to plan those, too. It's so overwhelming and complicated I usually just ostrich and give up—until I reach spring and see there are only a handful of spots left in the zoo camp all my daughter's friends are going to for two weeks. Guess it's time to pony up $850! Only eight summer weeks left to figure out... Where did that sand go to stick my head in?

Ellen Sturm Niz is a New York City-based editor and writer who visited an ostrich farm on her honeymoon. Follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

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