Those of you who know me won’t be surprised to hear that I’ve entered my usual, hair-tearing, mid-to-late-August, why-is-summer-vacation-so-long phase of the summer. We’ve actually had a nice summer this year, even given that last year included our Disney vacation and this year we’re not doing much in the way of leaving town. The boys spent their usual six weeks at the YMCA day camp, which sounds like a nice, long time, right? That’s because it is a nice long time, and after that, what more break do they need? A couple of weeks to just chill at home without having to pack up and smear themselves with sunscreen daily for camp? Sure. Maybe. But they have, after camp ends, four-and-a-half weeks more of summer break before school starts up again.
It’s too long.
There are things I could do to fill in the time — for one thing, I could have signed them up for more camp (they did two, three-week sessions at the Y; there’s a third session that just ended last week). Or I could have tried other camps — certainly, there’s no shortage of sports camps, arts camps, science camps, theatre camps. Notwithstanding the fact that they aren’t into any of those activities enough to warrant it, I’m out of money for camp, quite frankly. Which also means I’m out of money for a vacation — last year was a big treat for us, and I’m so glad we did it. So, more camp, more structured activties, or a splashy vacation (though to be fair, we are going away next week, to a local spot, for two days) is out of the question.
What is not out of the question is the fact that both of us, my husband and me, have to work, so while I could spend these four and a half weeks loading up my kids’ days with museum and beach trips, movies, lunches out, shopping excursions, and so on, I can only do so much because a decent part of each day does still have to be spent right here, at my computer, working. Yes, yes, I know I’m highly fortunate in that I can juggle my work time as I see fit, and to be sure I’m doing just that, doing more work in the evenings and on weekends then I’d normally do. But for me, as with most freelancers I know, the juggling freedom is a double-edged sword. I can take whole days off, and I have, to spend with my boys — but the more time I take off, the less money I potentially earn, because not only do I have to meet the deadlines already etched in my calendar, I also have to (or should, always) spend time marketing myself, beating the bushes for more work to put in that calendar so that a few months from now, checks will come in. That’s a long-sentence way of saying, I get no paid vacations.
And again, that’s cool. I understand and appreciate the trade-offs, the pros and cons of my self-employed work/lifestyle.
But it also means summer is too, too long.
I read a hilarious piece by The Daily Show‘s Samantha Bee in the Wall Street Journal online. She’s a comedian, of course, so her take is probably exaggerated for the laughs’ sake, but she goes on and on to great, coffee-spewing-out-the-nose effect about how when she was growing up in the 1970s, kids just wandered around, subsisting on candy and cartoons, their brains slowly rotting until school started again. Now, by contrast, she says, we’re supposed to enrich our kids’ IQs to prevent the summer backslide. And she’s having none of it:
I just don’t have any more energy to dig in and renovate my children into super-intelligent reading cyborgs for the first day of school. I can’t do any more rainy day activities with dry oatmeal in a cardboard box. I simply will not sing the “Fruit Salad Salsa” even one more time; if the children can’t get behind Neil Young that’s their problem until school starts up again. And my stern warnings have become completely senseless; “I’m warning you—if you don’t eat all your Gummy Worms you’re not getting any Sour Patch Kids! I am tired of wasting all this good candy!”
Frankly, from now until September the only learning we will be engaging in will be movie-based. I plan to let them watch “Star Wars,” and will continue to play it in a constant loop until they can imaginatively explain to me what it might feel like to “make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.” It’s all I can do to stave off the pandemonium that could be.
Ah, the pandemonium that could be: I hear you, Sam. Right now, my boys are in front of Boomerang (I think; I’m not actually with them at the moment) on TV, which is apropos considering it plays old-school cartoons (Tom & Jerry, anyone?). Later we’ll do the enrich-y thing, with a trip to the library and the bookstore. We go to the beach, usually in the afternoons after I’ve spent the morning alternately breaking up fights and interviewing experts for stories (it can get confusing; I am careful not to shout into the phone, “I don’t care who started it!”). They see movies with the grandparents and get together with friends.
Meanwhile, they’ve all but forgotten how to read, and to write (and I make them do it, believe me!), and I’m basically handing their piano teacher money every week so we can not practice piano all week, or not without grumbling and complaining that their mosquito bites make them too itchy to do the C-major scale more than once, halfheartedly.
Yeah, I’ve had it. Even what Ms. Bee says, regarding her 70s summertimes, is hazy becuase it’s probably not quite true:
…my childhood summer vacations were spent languishing in front of the TV watching Phil Donahue and eating Boo Berry until my skin turned purple. Nobody cared if I read. Nobody cared if I wore sunscreen, or pants. I was like a house cat; my parents barely even knew if I was still living with them or whether I had moved in with the old lady down the street who would put out a bowl of food for me. In the ’70s, parenting was like a combination of intense crate-training and rumspringa, so I would typically spend June through September burnt to a crisp and wandering listlessly around the city, verging on scurvy.
I bet her parents did care, and did want school to just start up again.
Our supplies are bought, our backpacks and lunchboxes are cleaned up and ready, Grandma bought the new Sketchers (thanks, Grandma!). We are ready. I am beyond ready.
T-minus 16 days…