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Sophomore Summer: I'm Okay If My Son Doesn't Get a "Real" Job

Marlene Kern Fischer

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When he was home on winter break, my youngest son mentioned that he might want to get an internship this summer instead of working at camp.

I was surprised — he’s that kid who loves camp. He started going to sleep away camp the summer before fifth grade and bonded with a group of wonderful kids who are his closest friends. I know that many of my son’s happiest memories include camp.

When camp was cancelled because of the pandemic last summer, he and his friends, all of whom were returning as second- or third-year counselors, were disappointed. But they took comfort in the fact that they could still spend time together, switching between each other’s backyards. My son set up a projector with a screen in our yard so they could watch baseball when baseball finally returned. Another boy had them all over to his fire pit on other evenings. They managed to see each other a fair amount until college started up again at the end of August.

But it wasn’t camp.

My son is a sophomore in college and I get that he realizes the clock is starting to wind down on summers before he graduates. When his older brothers were his age, I encouraged them to start thinking about internships in the “real world.” I thought they needed to be focused on their futures.

But my thinking has changed. For a lot of reasons.

First of all, I feel that it’s okay if my son has another camp summer. A last summer to be with his friends and enjoy himself. I never thought I’d say this but I don’t want him to underestimate the importance of having fun. I understand all too well that there’s plenty of time to be an adult and very little time left to be a kid.

In addition, I've seen that working at camp is teaching him responsibility. Taking care of kids is not an easy gig; he’s honing a skill set that will be as valuable as anything else he might learn working nine to five in an office. Maybe even more valuable.

And this pandemic year has not been an easy one. His freshman year on campus was cut off abruptly and, although he's been back at school this academic year, most of his learning and socializing is virtual. It’s stressful and disappointing. Nonetheless, he doesn’t complain and, when he’s been home, he's an exemplary quarantine-mate (mostly). I’m not above rewarding good behavior.

I also like the idea of him outdoors and off his devices; camp has pretty strict rules about the use of electronics. After more than a year of living virtually, a few months unplugged would be healthy. In fact, if I could go to camp for a while, I would. It sounds great. (Except for the bunks; there’s no way I could sleep on one of those skinny mattresses. And the bugs. I hate bugs. And I really enjoy air-conditioning on hot summer nights. Okay, so maybe the camp thing isn’t for me.)

Getting back to my son. I don’t think that his career prospects will be diminished if he takes another summer to do what he wants to do instead of what he thinks he should do. The road before him is long. You’re not going to find many people whose careers were launched by their summer job when they were 20.

Moreover, if he decides that he wants an internship, they may not be so easy to get. Many companies have decreased their number of internships or put programs on hold. Some programs that ran last summer were little more than résumé space-fillers. Virtual internships often meant little work with negligible learning. So, while I’m not suggesting he not put in effort if an internship is what he truly wants, I’m fairly certain no one will look at him a year from now when he’s searching for a post-junior year internship and hold it against him that he worked at a camp.

Of course, in the end, the choice is his. At 19, he’s old enough to decide for himself which route to take. Camp, an internship or a job in a local shop are all fine options.

As long as he is productive, I'll be supportive of whatever he ends up doing. After last summer, I'm just glad he'll have more options.

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Marlene Kern Fischer is a wife, mother, food shopper extraordinaire, author and college essay editor. She has published two books: Trapped in My Sports Bra and Other Harrowing Tales and Gained a Daughter but Nearly Lost My Mind: How I Planned a Backyard Wedding During a Pandemic. Find her on Facebook at Thoughts From Aisle 4.
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