I prepared for this summer by trying to report out a story about how much these warm weeks without school are actually miserable for families. I could already see the first paragraph. Excited kids shedding backpacks, already frazzled parents poring over camp spreadsheets and new schedules, and dealing with tired-out children.
But most of the people I spoke with told me I was off track. And a friend with a child the same age said, “Oh, I don’t know. I find it much easier.”
How could that be? Last summer, I was scrambling to find camps. I was still packing lunches, and dealing with children who were fried because they were not thriving on a non-school schedule. They were overheated, overtired, and we all were wiped out.
Summer had somehow changed from a magical time of my own childhood, to a frazzled time of parenthood. Summer, for a parent, is a hassle.
But this summer feels different. There are hassles, sure. But there are moments among those hassles, minutes to breathe. With a rising second-grader and a soon-to-be pre-k kid, I wonder if last summer seemed messy because messy is what that phase in life is.
This summer has been made of secret, quiet moments that get lost during the school year between the pages of homework sheets and harried spelling test drills. It’s been a lemonade stand with friends, reading books after a long day, sprinklers in the backyard, baseball in the front.
Summer is, I’m finding, being okay with lolling about in pajamas rather than fighting over a kid’s desire to wear athletic shorts to school. Again. The sun is up longer, which means a little more time of air and running around. And even though I work most days and my schedule hasn’t really changed, things are, simply put, softer.
I still had to find a few camps. I still have to rush myself out the door, and my husband and I have been trying to keep the boys on a schedule that is almost the same as the school year — admittedly hard when the sun is up as late as it is, and we big people like to partake in some outdoor fun in the evenings, too. But our whole little world is a bit less harried. Part of it may be the luck of having some vacation time that includes a husband who is able to be home with the boys so they can do things like play “Star Wars” (huh?) in the back yard during the day and make a game out of going to the grocery store. Or maybe it’s because first grade felt a little more real — someone in our house sweated over it a bit more. Or maybe it’s just that I, the working outside of the house mom, have settled into the motherhood role with a little more ease this season.
Huh. Come to think of it, yes, I was ready for school to be out for the first time. I was done making sure someone’s homework was completed. I was tired of coming home from work to cook a meal and make sure he was doing his math homework while I helped the little one bathe. Maybe that’s it — parents need summer too, even if that doesn’t mean much of a change in parental duties. A break like this means something for all of us.
On a recent beach trip, my older son and I started struggling because he didn’t want to leave the house at 7:30 one morning, even though he was already bouncing off the walls and on the verge of waking other family members. I plied him like every ounce of me said not to with a “Maybe we’ll get a surprise out there.” Horrible, and I knew it even as I said it. I really only meant a bagel, but I didn’t mean to bribe. His younger brother got excited and said something about a superhero toy.
We made it outside, and Sam, who had been grumpy and tense, suddenly looked like he had changed from hard lines to fuzzy ones. “I know what the surprise is,” he said as he started toward the beach. I grimaced and waited for his answer, wondering how I was going to get out of this one. “We get to be the first ones to put our footprints in the sand.”
Summer, I love you. Please stay.