Camp Fresh Air

BY ON July 2, 2012

Three children kicking a ball in a field of green with yellow flowers

I should be working but instead I’m Googling natural tick repellents, digging through the hall closet to see if we still have rain boots that fit, and worrying, especially about ozone. It hit well over 90 degrees in my hometown of New York City last week, prompting air quality warnings for the small, the pregnant, and the elderly alike–a vulnerable trifecta. But it was no good for the less vulnerable, either. And it was still June! Weeks like that reinforce my decision to flee the city as much as possible in the summer, carbon footprint (for once) be damned.

I’m lucky. My parents have a weekend house I borrow during the summer weeks when they’re not there. And they live in an area filled with mellow, inexpensive summer camps on organic farms and others that basically just let the kids out in the woods to explore. I can do my work from anywhere–and frequent many local cafes as my daughter runs around being a kid, happy, filling her lungs with comparatively fresher air than if we were stuck in our city routine. Dropping her off in the morning to roam makes me feel like a good parent. When I was growing up across the street from our current apartment, I was similarly lucky. My parents had the resources and good sense to send me to a camp in rural New Hampshire for most of the summer, where I hiked, swam, and smooched under the stars in the cool night air as they sweltered in air conditioning 24/7 5 hours south.

Next summer we won’t be as lucky. My parents are in the (heartbreaking) process of selling their weekend house. Knowing what I know, I’ll figure something out. But what of other families who can’t figure out how to get to cleaner air because of circumstance or finances–or both? I look at the heat index, the smog warnings, and endless online pictures of public pools filled wall to wall with urban kids, and shudder. What a grand experiment. Why are these kids guinea pigs?

What is it about summer that makes air pollution–which is certainly not a seasonal issue, though it worsens in warm weather–feel that much more unjust? It’s one of the last bastions of purity, slow living, childhood. And I don’t want to let it go. And I don’t think anyone–my daughter, myself, or any of our contemporaries–should have to basically suck on exhaust pipes for a few months as we make memories, luxuriate in slightly looser schedules, catch fireflies, and smooch under the stars.

I spend time on the Fresh Air Fund website and marvel. Interestingly, their literature doesn’t address asthma or ozone, it talks about childhood. “The majority of Fresh Air children are from low-income communities. These are often families without the resources to send their children on summer vacations. Most inner-city youngsters grow up in towering apartment buildings without large, open outdoor play spaces. Concrete playgrounds cannot replace the freedom of running barefoot through the grass or riding bikes down country lanes.”

Indeed. Unfortunately no amount of nostalgia and maternal love can make the soot and smog retreat. For that we need legislation.


TOPICS: Asthma, Motherhood, Pollution, Social Justice