Summer Camp

We just finished our first week at summer camp. Why “we?” Our ten year-old we thought was more than old enough to drop off at a sleep-over summer camp. Thing is, when my wife and I made this decision he was totally into skateboarding and THE camp of camps for this is a five hour drive from our house just outside of Tehachapi, CA. As you all know, this are is famous for the Tehachapi Loop. OK, I didn’t know about it either until we drove through there.

My wife and I love our son but we didn’t love him enough to sacrifice 20 hours of driving to drop him off then return seven days later to pick him up, so we instead planned a traveling camp with mom and dad for our eight year-old. Fourteen hundred miles, and two irritated sciatica nerves later, we’re finally back at home.

So my wife and I drop off our oldest at Camp Woodward, a mecca of skateboarding, BMX biking, and gymnastics. Yes, gymnastics, and cheerleading as well. This place has something for everyone who likes to jump, pop, twist and otherwise hurl their body through the open void of space. Anyone with any sense of adventure will immediately be in awe of this facility.

Most of the parents walking around appeared more stunned than their children. Half-pipes. Bowls. Ramps. Dirt. Wood. Concrete. Parallel bars. Rings. Trampolines. Indoors. Outdoors. A swimming pool. Video games. Fire pit. Wow. Easily eight out of every ten parents there wanted to send their kids home and stay for the camp themselves. I was in awe, and I’d love to watch kids launch themselves away from terra firma using these ramps and contraptions, but having me do it? Nope. Not for me. Not any more. Maybe, just maybe after a long run up to feeling comfortable with the surfaces, and wearing a lot of pads I would have done it in my 20s, but now, when the first eight steps upright out of bed are always taken gingerly, stretching my 44 year-old tendons, no way.

So we leave our oldest and head into the land of make-believe with our youngest, a child who already gets enough use out of his own fertile imagination. First stop: Disneyland.

Crowds. Crowds. Crowds. But in the context of Disney we lucked out since the longest line we ever waited in was 45 minutes. 45 minutes. In a line. Waiting. To get to an amusement park ride. Where you sit, and let a mechanism of steel, hydraulics, and fiberglass through you around to stimulate and simulate an adrenalin rush.

Suddenly I’m rethinking my take on fearing bodily harm within the skate park. But are the rides fun while you’re experiencing them? Hell yeah! Like the California Screamin’ ride where you rocket from zero to 60 miles an hour in 4 seconds all by electro-magnets, punctuated by a few negative G drops and a loop in the middle. It’s just plain silly fun. And safe. Relatively.

We spent two days at Disney hopping from line to line, ride to ride. My son and I even took a spin on the Mad Tea Party ride. Childish fun.

Next stop was the favorite of my wife and mine: Sea World. No lines and live sea creatures. We stayed in downtown San Diego and even better than Sea World was our walk along with waterfront followed by dinner at a crab-shack on the water. Just the three of us. We talk. We got into a little spat with our eight year-old. We talked some more. We giggled. We smiled. We laughed. It was time that we rarely get to have so uninterrupted.

We spent the next day driving up to Santa Monica in preparation for our visit to Universal Studios the following day. The drive went unimpeded so we arrived in Santa Monica two hours earlier than we thought we would; we were counting on horrific Los Angeles traffic. What did we do? We dropped the bags at the hotel, went across the street to the beach and dug in the sand until our fingers were raw. Ater we strolled onto the Santa Monica Pier, rode two silly rides, and played one game where we stacked the deck in our favor. It was one of those squirt the water in the hole and “race” an object to the top of the pole games, where the winner got a prize. The game was only on if there were a minimum of three participants. We were three people. Great!

The race was on. We won. Our youngest got the prize. Who won was irrelevant. The prize was a cheap, floppy stuffed frog, which our youngest named “Franky.” We brought Franky with us as we continued on into downtown Santa Monica to go to one of my wife’s favorite stores: Lululemon.

As she perused the shelves my son and I broke into a no holds barred, slow-motion martial arts battle: my son against Franky. It was hilarious, and we played until my wife was ready for me to try on a new pair of shorts at the store. Of course my son came in the changing room and we continued the battle in there.

That night, I said to my son, “thanks for reminding me what it is to be a kid.”

Universal Studios the next day was another amusement park. As one mother recounted the cliché: been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

Early the next morning we were off to get big brother and finally head home.

When my wife and I dropped our oldest off at camp, we knew this camp would do one of two things: solidify our son’s love of skateboarding, or have him see that he’s wired a lot like his father who gave up skateboarding when he was 11 because he didn’t like getting hurt…at all.

We arrived and our oldest son could not wait to see us, or leave. Sleep away camp was not what he thought is was going to be at all. In many respects he was not ready for it. He admitted during a quiet moment that he was terribly homesick, and that he constantly felt like he was in over his head. The kids there were the kinds of kids willing to totally throw themselves – literally and metaphorically – into the sport: something that our oldest was not – and most likely never will be – willing to do.

Best yet was seeing the two brothers together. They gibber-gabbered away telling each other about their week, about what they saw, and what they did, and physically sticking so close to each other it was sometimes difficult to see where one stopped and the other began. And right in the middle of the flurry of stories and anecdotes, as our youngest was introducing his big brother to Franky, I overheard our youngest secretively and proudly say to his big brother, “And we taught dad how to be a kid again.”


RJ Lavallee is the author of IMHO (In My Humble Opinion): a guide to the benefits and dangers of today’s communication tools on sale at, Barnes and Noble, and

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