It's that time of year. Tulips are up, daffodils are blooming, azaleas are budding, children out of school, and working parents are in trouble. They know what to do with the flowers, but what does one do with the children?
Spring vacation is not, of course, the kind of weighty international issue one expects to find discussed in the pages of a major metropolitan newspaper, and it is not the kind of thing that America's employers should worry about. America's workers will manage, and so will the kids. They always have. But spring vacation is one of the times that it becomes a bit of a bother, this business of working to keep one generation solvent while trying to raise the next.
Most of the time being a working mother is a piece of cake. All you have to do is be organized and keep lists. Unfortunately, when the schools are closed you have to do more. You have to keep your children yourself or find some place to put them, and you are quite on your own in this. America's employers have assiduously avoided acknowledging that some of their employes are also raising tomorrow's workers. Thus, we have a situation in which more than half of all women with children 5 and under are working and we have less than 1 percent of all corporations supporting any kind of day care assistance. We continue to have such holidays as spring vacation, which pop up out of nowhere, for no apparent reason, and we assume, if we give it a thought at all, that working parents will somehow muddle through the week.
Years ago, when women did what they were suppposed to do, namely to grow up, get married, have children and stay home taking care of them, spring vacation was not a problem. In fact, it gave the mothers of elementary school children something to do for a week during spring: they could cure their spring fever by taking care of their children. But more than 60 percent of the mothers with children ages 6 to 17 are working now, so spring vacation is not quite the blessing it used to be.
Spring vacation drives working parents to the heights of ingenuity. Some working parents, of course, are able to pack the family up and go off to the Caribbean for a week, thereby killing two birds with one stone: taking care of their children at the same time they are having a terrific working vacation. This is the ideal solution to spring vacation, but unfortunately it takes a great deal of money, something most working families don't have.
Grandmothers are often the next best solution. Grandmothers usually know your children and they can usually be relied upon to make sure they are safe and happy while you work. Grandmothers, however, have been known to shirk their responsibilities, or at least shirk some of their children. I've heard stories about grandmothers picking up the phone and greeting the news of grandchildren visiting by saying no. Or, "Look, I'll take them after they're toilet trained and before they hit adolescence but not before or after." Or, "I'll take the 5-year-old and the 8-year-old, but send all the rest to Herb's mother."
Some people take their children into the office, but this solution is usually good for a half a day or a full day at most. Unfortunately, spring vacation usually lasts longer than that.
After the office, the choices aren't too terrific. You can always pretend the children don't exist, but while this attitude is considered appropriate for the employers, it is frowned upon in some circles when it shows up in parents. If you feel guilty about pretending they don't exist, you can always leave the children in front of the television and turn it on to the educational channel. Or if they are too young to be trusted inside, you can always leave them in the backyard with a box lunch and hope that (a) it doesn't rain and (b) they don't have to go to the bathroom. You can also survey friends and neighbors who might be childless, to see if they would like to rent your child a few days to get an idea of what parenthood is like.
If the weather is nice, you could always drop them off at the museums or the zoo and pick them up at dusk and hope for the best. People might criticize you for neglecting your children, but you can tell them you are doing no such thing. Tell them you've got to make a living and you're teaching your child the secrets of success: he may look like he's abandoned, but actually he's learning to be self-reliant.
That's the free enterprise system of child care.