By the time you read this, my children will have been out of school for nearly a week. But for today, for tomorrow, they’re still in the charge of the state, still safely and happily ensconced in their classrooms, in the company of their friends and teachers, and not here, at home, knocking on my office door to tell me that they’re bored. “There’s nothing to doooooooooooooooooo!”
People, I am holding on to today and tomorrow as though they are the last shreds of my sanity. And maybe they are.
You see, I find summers with kids a tad unsettling. I don’t see summer vacation as nine weeks “off,” but rather as nine weeks “to fill.” And although I was as entertained as the next person by that now-viral post about giving your kids a 1970s summer, the truth of the matter is that neither my life nor my temperament lend themselves to just letting Rowan and Isaac chill out and make their own fun for all of July and August.
(For one thing, there was no Internet in the 1970s. The only video games were at the arcade, and you had to put quarters into them. Unfettered access to screens today means something quite different than it did when I was nine—we had to make our own fun, because it wasn’t handed to us in the form of handheld devices.)
And so, we send the kids to camp. And while this is a workable solution for most of the summer, it has its own stresses. There’s the job of researching programs that the kids actually agree to attend, enrolling them (hopefully with a best friend or two), not to mention paying for everything. Of course, all this thinking about programs and camps and childcare for July and August actually begins in February, which means that I’m stressed about summer for approximately five months before it even begins.
And then, once each camp and sports program is nailed down and on the calendar, there’s the stress of actually getting them there each weekday morning—with sunscreen on. The sunscreen may be what actually kills me, but only because I’ve been weakened by the stress of navigating myself and my kids through eight weeks of constant change. I kind of like routines and consistency, as does my firstborn. And so, each Monday is its own potential stressor: a new place, with new kids and new routines and rules for everyone to agree upon and get used to. As the kids get older, it’s getting easier, but I’m still scarred by summers past, with clingy children refusing to get out of the car or sobbing until I agreed to stay.
And then there are all the people on Facebook and Twitter who just “hang out” all summer, eating popsicles and going on hikes. There are the people who post things about how they wish that they didn’t have to send their kids to camp but they do so with a heavy heart because they have to work and I think, Who are you? Because I can’t spend nine weeks just hanging out with my kids, all of us in some kind of chaotic, symbiotic human soup of a household. Sometimes, I need my children to go away, to find their entertainment or be entertained by people other than myself. I need to get work done, and when you work as a writer, you can’t be constantly interrupted by people wanting to know if we can make popsicles or have a friend over or if I can just have three jars? Please? To make potions? or complaining that someone has whacked them across the knees with a croquet mallet, or where is the tape. It’s an irony of life that when you’re a parenting writer, you need to kids to go away so that you can write about them.
Also, so you still like them at the end of the day.
By the time you read this, we will be merely through the first week of the summer, one of the couple of weeks where we have nothing scheduled except hanging out. And while there will, undoubtedly, be many wonderful moments during that week, I suspect that when Monday rolls around and camp officially begins—and when I have (fingers crossed) left my children safe and happy in the care of their teenage counselors—I will be at least somewhat relieved at the temporary reprieve.
When I was a kid, summer vacation seemed to last forever—endless long days of magic and wonder. And now that I’m a parent, summer vacation seems to last forever. Let’s hope that this one has more of the “magic and wonder” and less of the “endless.” For everyone’s sake.