Chicago summer camp: It’s 3 a.m., do you know where your mother is?

I got the call the night before.

“So what time do you want to meet to get our spot in line?” asked my friend.

“I’m hearing some people are planning on arriving as early as 5 o’clock in the morning, so how do you feel about 4 o’clock?”

“Hmm,” responded my friend thoughtfully.


“It all comes down to how badly we want it.”

“How badly do we want it?” I asked nervously.

“We want it BAD. Like 3 o’clock bad.”

“Three o’clock in the MORNING??”

“You in?”

“I’m in,” I finished dejectedly, resigning myself to a sleepless night.

And thus I showed up at 3 a.m. this past Monday to wait in a line. This was not merely to get tickets for a rock concert or some sporting event. My purpose was far nobler than that.

I was in line to get three of the last remaining spots for our local Chicago Park District summer camp.

Every year, Park District registration occurs online first. As a mother to three sons, I have found that registering multiple children online for in-demand camps is pointless. Programs fill up within seconds of going live. Parents are left frustrated, desperate, and, in my case, standing in front of a fieldhouse in the middle of the night praying not to pee.

I was prepared. My friend who waited with me is a Chicago policeman, so safety was not a concern. I packed my favorite lawn chair and dressed appropriately for the cold overnight hours. Most importantly, I fought the urge to buy that extra-large Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. There would be no vacating my spot for a resulting potty break. This was to be cut-throat. Those faint of heart and full in bladder would simply not make it.

As time passed, a few more early birds trickled into line. We grilled each other on preferences (morning or afternoon spots, age groups, and type of camp). We quickly figured out who was certain to lock in spots and who would be wait-listed. When one line member suggested to another line member that he ought give up and go home, the man responded without missing a beat:

“Nah. Someone could die.”

The crowd cracked up. Only people with a sense of humor and irony stand out in the middle of the night for summer camp.

The line started taking on a party atmosphere. Friends and neighbors chatted, gloves were shared, and coffee runs were ultimately made. Someone suggested that next year, the crowd head straight over after some pints at the famed Western Avenue pubs. We’d be happy, impervious to cold, and completely incapable of filling out our forms correctly.

I cringed when I saw my in-laws arrive in a spot most likely destined for the dreaded wait list.

“Oh Marianne,” coaxed my sister-in-law, trying to convince me to relinquish my #2 spot, “you DO want us to attend Jack’s First Communion next month, don’t you?”

It wasn’t easy, but I held firm. And I reduced my First Communion headcount by four.

Following a short six hours in line, I was able to register all three kids for camp while turning down offers of money, free babysitting, and carpool services.

After all, I have integrity.

And a strong desire for summer afternoon naps.

Like I said, I wanted this BAD.

- Advertisement -


Downtown Chicago Family Guide

Feel like a tourist!

8 Next-Level Grilled Cheese Spots in Chicagoland

Ooey, gooey and delicious grilled cheese coming right up!

Vacation Checklist for Kids to Help Them Pack for a Trip

Have them learn how to pack like a pro.

Chicago’s Preschool Application Is Open

Brought to you by Chicago Early Learning.

- Advertisement -