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Summertime blues? Kids don't have time

By C.T. BOWEN
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 2, 2002

Eddie Cochran crooned, "there ain't no cure for the summertime blues."

More than 40 years later, we still believe it. At least for the offspring.

The lazy days of summer? Since when? They're jammed with day trips and summer camps. Blockbuster movies and visits to the ballpark. Mandatory reading and theme park thrill rides.

How can a kid get blue? He doesn't have time.

Here's a typical itinerary for the first week of summer vacation. It's accurate because it's from our household: Adventure Island, a viewing of the just-released Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone video for the neighborhood kids, two shopping expeditions (The checking account balance was a lot healthier before Super Target moved to central Pasco) and a trip to Lowry Park Zoo. A planned visit to Busch Gardens was delayed.

A weeklong soccer camp commences Monday. We passed on another camp this year, and I am most grateful for avoiding an organized sports league during June and July.

The rush by parents to fill summer schedules is attributable to several factors. Two working parents means the kids would be home unattended, otherwise. A suburbanization away from town centers has made walks or bike rides to the movie theaters, shopping districts or community parks too distant. (The scarcity of sidewalks makes said trips dangerous, anyway.) Summer school is a thing of the past. And there is a general fear that unsupervised idle time will translate into mischief or, worse, a safety threat to children.

A kid with a baseball bat used to mean a neighborhood game was imminent. Now, it could mean a round of mailbox bashing.

Besides, as a report from Newhouse News Service recently asked, when was the last time you actually saw a pick-up game of baseball? These days, youth sports seem to be played almost exclusively in full uniform with adult coaches and umpires.

We are not new to the camp phenomenon. Two years ago, we tried the county-run summer camp at the Land O'Lakes Recreation Center. It cost yours truly several hours of sleep to go wait in line in the middle of the night for the coveted spot. By the end of the summer, junior no longer attended. Boring, he said.

His opinion must be in the minority. Parents now line up even earlier, starting the afternoon before the registration opens. The county considered a lottery for the 200 spots, but parents objected. With that kind of demand, maybe the county should just start gold-circle seating and advance purchases on the Internet. It seems to work for the music industry.

This year, we had to choose between soccer and baseball for the summer camp. Just one week, though. But parents, eager to entertain their children, can select among any sport imaginable from golf and tennis, to football and basketball, to bowling and fly fishing. There are camps that emphasize academics, computers, equestrian skills and even weight loss.

The New Image Weight Loss Camp in Lake Wales offers an activities schedule and menu intended to allow kids to drop 2 to 4 pounds a week. Eight weeks of camp costs a cool $6,290 or $196 to $393 per pound.

The skin-and-bones older offspring at our house is a more appropriate candidate for a weight-gain camp. Maybe Ken Caminiti will fill that niche and open one. Jose Canseco can serve as guest lecturer.

Yes, our children's summer vacations differ dramatically from the memories in upstate New York. Summer meant playing baseball on the playground at School 9, later called Hillside Elementary. After the game we hiked up Mount Herman, one of the Allegheny Foothills at the south of our neighborhood. The Palace movie theater was in the heart of downtown, a 20-minute walk away. We earned money mowing lawns -- now a career among some Floridians. We took bike hikes along a winding two-lane road to the next village, where my father worked. A good report card meant a once-a-year trip to the nearest amusement park, Crystal Beach in Ontario, Canada where the wooden roller coaster, the Comet, has since been moved to another park but is still exalted by coaster enthusiasts.

A trip only once a summer is incomprehensible to today's youngsters. In these days of year-long passes, the offspring see a theme park about every other week over the summer.

Any less, and they might get the blues.

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