In The Good Old Summertime? My Lesson in Summer Vacation

I’m having a “first” this summer, as a parent. First time that I am — on the face of it, anyway — just being, here at home, with my sons. It’s been … interesting, a word my high school English teacher (rest in peace, Ms. Richman) instructed us to avoid at all costs because it’s basically useless as a descriptor, but in some cases, I’ve found, it has its place, especially when loaded with irony. As it is now.

But let me give you some background on this whole summer thing. As I’ve said before here, I’ve always worked, and of course that includes summer. However, since James was born, I’ve been freelance, which means my office is in my home, my commute is short and sweet (up the stairs!), and my time — theoretically, at least — is my own. But anyone who is freelance or who has his or her own business knows, there are no every-other-Friday paychecks, no paid vacations, no slacking off (unless you don’t, you know, want to get those sweet, sweet checks in the mail).

So I work, and the boys have evolved from daycare to daycamp. But this year, I decided that I’d leave the first few weeks of summer childcare- and camp-free. Just the three of us, our little pool, our swingset, the kids on the cul-de-sac where we ride our bikes. We’d see what was free at the library, get together with friends for park and beach trips, and eat ice pops with abandon.

I thought the three weeks (four for James, whose pre-K very (in)conveniently ended a week before the district’s public schools) would drag, that I’d be frantic to fill the hours.

Truth be told, I’ve enjoyed it. A lot. More than I expected.

This is not to say that I have not been bored. I have. Kind of like when I was a kid myself; some days dragged, even if the summer itself zoomed as fast as my 6-year-old on his newly-free-of-training-wheels bicycle (Daniel! Slow DOWN! Brakes! Brakes!).

My biggest surprises, and my greatest satisfaction, have come in the small moments.

  • Bicycles. My boys are addicted to riding, and we hit the cul-de-sac once or twice a day so they can ride semi-traffic-free. One neighbor there has a couple chairs on his front lawn, and they’ve been away, so I’m not shy about sitting up on their lawn so I can watch the boys in comfort. One day last week, as the boys zoomed an glided and followed a few other kids in figure-eights up and down driveways, I was sort of regretting not having brought reading material. But then I just stopped, and felt the breeze in the lawn’s cool shade, and watched. And remembered just how utterly free I used to feel on my own bike (the sparkly banana-seat bike with the tassels on its handles), as though there were no boundaries to life at all.

    Here's Daniel, freshly free of training wheels.

    Here's Daniel, freshly free of training wheels.

  • The planetarium. We nabbed free passes (thank you, for the zillionth time, South Huntington Public Library!) to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and went in with friends for a day last week, which included a show at the fantastic Hayden Planetarium, part of the newly and breathtakingly refurbished Rose Center for Earth and Space. They can call it anything fancy in the world they like, but it’s a planetarium, and I love planetariums. The round room, the giant, curved ceiling, the high-backed comfy chairs, the dark and the cool. We took a Journey to the Stars, and it was fabulous. So caught up was I in a geeky fascination for the story of the first stars’ birth 13 billion years ago, that I almost forgot to check to see if the boys were scared or bored or doing something they shouldn’t. And when I snuck a sideways glance, I saw their heads tilted back, their eyes wide and fixed on the ceiling, mesmerized by the immensity of the universe.
  • Summer haircuts. I’m fairly lazy with the boys’ hair, tending to let it get pretty shaggy before I break down and get their heads barbered. But I find I like it this way, because when they finally get their short summer ‘dos, it’s like I get to see their summery faces emerge, all fresh and (at least for Daniel) summer-freckled. Here they are, freshly shorn by our haircutting neighbor (bless her), Patty:



  • Pajama time. Though I always kind of inwardly scoff at other moms I know who look forward to school vacations so they don’t have to get up early and get the kids out the door, there is something to be said for lengthy pajama mornings. My kids are up early regardless, and I never thought it was such a hassle to get them dressed and breakfasted and ready for school. Now that I also don’t have to pack camp lunches and get their camp backpacks sorted out before 8:30 a.m., we are free to see where the morning takes us. OK, truth time here: these so-called leisurely PJ spells are mostly leisurely to them. I use the time to catch up on some work (because, see above, the freelance life doesn’t allow for total vacations, and I have had some deadlines in this so-called “carefree” time), or to do some neglected household chores. But it’s still kind of nice to know that I can be up here in my office, making a quick call or typing up some notes for a story, and hear them downstairs, introducing the cars from the movie “Cars” to their Thomas trains. And isn’t it awesome that the cars and the trains can be friends and share their fictional worlds?

Curmudgeon that I am; mean, time-schedule loving, relentlessly practical mommy that I am, I have to admit: I’ve loved my three-week summer.

But I also love camp! Seven more days …