During the chaos of the holidays, amid wrapping paper and visiting in-laws, while trying desperately to remember to move the Elf on the Shelf, I hope you, fellow parents, took a moment to sit down and accept that by the end of January, you need to have planned every single second of your children’s summer break.

Ah, camp: That insanely expensive (consider selling a kidney), bafflingly competitive (there just aren’t as many slots as there are children who need them) summer necessity for working parents everywhere. For 10 weeks each year, the state washes its hands of your children, and you have to figure out what exactly you’re going to do with them. And that figuring isn’t easy: Not only do you need to consider budgets and availability and ability to carpool 一 you might need to take your child’s actual interests into account, too.

Consider campaigning for year-round school. Barring that, here’s a timeline to help you prepare.

First Week of January

Sit down with spouse to confirm weeks of family vacation. Learn that spouse’s vacation request has not yet been approved. Recklessly proceed with booking Shore rental.

Second Week of January

After chatting with fellow parents at basketball practice mere days later, realize in panic that you already are behind. Ask your children which camps from last summer were their favorites. Attempt to field such questions as: “Which was the one with the good counselors where we did fun stuff?”

Attend camp fair inexplicably scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on a school night despite being geared toward 5-year-olds, who are thus awake well past their bedtimes and running around like lunatics while you attempt to gather brochures from wildly expensive sleep-away camps located in idyllic hamlets in the Poconos where you will never send your children.

With the help of children and camp fair materials, compile list of camps with “good pools” and GaGa pits. (You do not understand the game of GaGa, nor what constitutes “good” when it comes to pools.)

Realize that several options offer hours only from 9 a.m. to noon and wonder: Exactly which parents require only three hours of child care per day?

End up with a series of local camps that somehow seem to check all boxes: affordable (ish), not in the opposite direction of the office, centered on a sport or activity about which your child has actually expressed an interest. Bring said list out to drinks with your girlfriends, and learn that Susie’s son Johnny had a terrible time at Option A last summer, while Sarah’s neighbor’s cousin’s friend got “an off vibe” from Option C.

Reconsider list.

Third Week of January

You are informed that your oldest is “so over” tennis, and will not be going to tennis camp.

Then spouse’s boss does not approve his vacation request. Lose mind.

Deep breath. Rebook week at Shore.

Sit with calendar and schedules for all selected camps to ensure, for example, that children are at Option E the week it goes to Dorney Park, and not the week that the mobile zoo comes with snakes. (Your children hate snakes.) Repeat with all camps each week of the summer. Create spreadsheet if necessary.

Fourth Week of January

Add up total cost for selected camps for all children and die a little inside. Wonder if said children would mind going to camp instead of college.

Grit teeth. Call grandparents and ask if they will gift a week of camp for child’s birthday in lieu of LOL Doll or similar plastic monstrosity.

Fifth Week of January

Sign up for and place deposits on all weeks of camp — except the final week of August, for which you are immediately placed on the waiting list. (Because, of course, by the final week of August all the counselors have headed back to college and most camps are closed. Those that are open fill up instantly. Despite the fact that this year you sent in your paperwork the day registration opened, your children don’t have spots. Again.)

Make alternative (costly) plans for final week of August, just in case.

First Week of February

Congratulate yourself on making it through yet another camp registration season relatively unscathed.

Learn while selling cookies in the freezing cold outside Acme that all other girls in youngest child’s troop have signed up for a different week of Girl Scout camp. A week that is now fully booked.

Get on the waiting list.

Alison Smith is a writer living on the Main Line who forgot to move the elf a record eight times in December. She implores you to buy cookies from any and all frozen Girl Scouts you might encounter at area grocery stores.