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Memo: Camp Smitty to Camp Obama

If the Obamas want to demonstrate their true mettle as family camp directors, they will have to do so at home.
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I hear the Obama girls are having a wonderful summer as they accompany their dad on business trips. They've been to Paris, Moscow, London, Rome, and several places in Ghana. It's fun, it's enriching, and it keeps them out of trouble. Michelle calls it Camp Obama.

As the former director of Camp Smitty, an enterprise that flourished when my own children were too old for a playpen but too young to be left unsupervised, I feel uniquely qualified to offer advice.

First, the obligatory full disclosure. Like the President, I work from an office in my home. Again like Barack, I've brought the family along on work-related trips to other countries, paying their expenses myself.

No two camps are alike, of course. At Camp Obama, they got to meet the Pope. At Camp Smitty, we saw a speck on a distant Jumbotron located in front of St. Peter's Cathedral. The Obama campers move around in big comfy cars that are always stationed right outside whatever door they exit. We traveled with rush-hour crowds on the local subways. Michelle replenished her daughters' wardrobes at a pricey Paris children's boutique. I got my kids plastic sandals at Monoprix, the French equivalent of Target.

Still, these were privileged outings, and relative no-brainers in terms of what to do. No matter how you travel, taking your campers to the Eiffel Tower is not exactly heavy lifting for the activities-planning department.

If the Obamas want to demonstrate their true mettle as family camp directors, they will have to do so at home. To help ensure continued fun during the August doldrums, I offer the following suggestions, all based on actual activities at Camp Smitty.

Build your own summer White House.
Yes, there's Camp David and that rented estate on Martha's Vineyard, but what Sasha and Malia need is a place they can really call their own. All Michelle has to do is find a discarded refrigerator carton, drag it back to the Rose Garden, and let her children practice home renovation until the whole thing collapses in crayon-covered shards.

Sasha will do the inside work while Malia serves as exterior designer. If the big kid decides to test the building's earthquake resistance while the little sister is inside, the junior camper will survive. Trust me, it won't be the first time such a thing has happened.

Practice water sports.
This might seem tricky, but the Obama campers can avoid the stigma of elitism by shunning sailing, windsurfing, or anything else that requires a dock. Think Joe Biden, not John Kerry.

At Camp Smitty, kids were encouraged to spend sweltering summer afternoons lounging around with their feet in a backyard wading pool, licking popsicles made from frozen orange juice. Regattas were limited to crumpled-paper boats propelled by blowing on them through straws.

Adult lifeguards also enjoyed full pedal immersion, which left their hands free to clutch cool beverages while discussing racism in America.

Reach out to the Republicans. Go into hiding.
Remember the fun of playing "Where's Dick Cheney?" Distracted by the mystery of what inconvenient location Sarah Palin will pop out of for her next press conference to denounce the press?

At Camp Smitty, we had our own secret hideouts, and at Camp Obama, they can, too. Sasha can grab a flashlight and a book and withdraw under the dining room table after it has been draped with a large bed sheet to make a tent. Malia is probably too old and certainly too tall for that, but it's time for her to start practicing the early-adolescent pastime of "don't come in my room!" By the time she has finished covering her walls and ceiling with magazine cutouts of the Jonas Brothers, school will be back in session.

Get a job.
Isn't this what the new economy is all about? Is it ever too young to start? At Camp Smitty, we dragged the lemonade stand to the corner, but the White House gets a lot of tourist traffic, so the Obama girls can probably set up shop right by the fence.

Based on Camp Smitty experience, I advise putting the cute little sister out front. We didn't have to deal with the Secret Service, but those folk in suits and earbuds should probably maintain a behind-the-table position. Discounts also help, and reduced prices for out-of-town visitors, pedestrians, students, government workers, and groups of at least one make everyone feel special.

Times are hard and every bit of extra revenue helps. If this works out well enough, it might just plug a few holes in the national budget. Now, that's a real summer adventure.