Summer is here! The season of testing and homework and signing papers and remembering to pack for field trips and dress like your favorite book character day and worrying about the class bully finally has ended. Freedom! At least for a couple of months . . . Now it’s time to stay up late and sleep in, spend hours lounging by the pool, go on extended camping trips, hear repeated cries of “I’m bored!” and “Can I have another snack?”, make bucket lists of cool places to explore, and let the kids run around the neighborhood with friends until they are dirty, sweaty, and exhausted.
Oh, wait. You still have to go to work.
Being a working mom during the school year comes with plenty of moments for #momguilt. Missed field days and class parties and surprise lunches abound. (OK. To be honest? I’m not sure I would be present for every one of those events even if I was at home. Must I witness every instance of making gingerbread houses with milk cartons and graham crackers?) But the summer brings a different type of guilt. Because, of course, #momguilt can find a way to take up residence in our brain year-round. For at least eighteen years. But likely forever.
I grew up enjoying wonderful and completely unstructured summers in the 1980s. After breakfast, I would head outside and find plenty of other kids waiting. We rode bikes, played in the woods behind our houses, and made up games that involved a ball and the street. We wrote plays and performed them for our parents in backyards. There was dancing to New Edition and Whitney Houston in our basements. A couple of times a week, my mom or a friend’s mom took a group of us to the local pool. Once there, we made up synchronized swimming routines, did cannonballs off the diving board, failed to wait the sacred forty minutes after eating a fudgesicle, and probably did not wear adequate sunblock (just ask my dermatologist).
My family went camping a few times in our pop-up camper. Our primary activities consisted of collecting sticks and hiking. Even though I grew up in a coastal state, we never went to the beach. Just not water people, I guess. And we ALWAYS participated in the summer reading program at the local library!
My point? The days of summer during my childhood were unplanned and long and filled with friends—and sometimes boring. It was great, even if I didn’t always recognize it then. Even kids who have a parent at home during the summer do not have that experience very often anymore. In 2017, summer days are more likely filled with camps and enrichment activities and tutoring and organized sports. Some of that is fine. But I am fortunate to live in a neighborhood in which kids still hang out all day during the summer. They run between houses and play basketball in the driveway. They splash in the pool and never have any idea what time it is. And, perhaps because I idealize the lazy days of summer from my own youth, I wish my own kids could participate in that more.
As life is, though, I’m a single mom who works full time and my kids are not quite old enough to be left unattended all summer. (My daughter would tell you otherwise). So we are still up and out the door by 7:30am. I shuttle the kids to day camp and then I head to work. I’m fortunate that my kids attend a camp at which they are outside almost all day. They swim and do crafts and play games. They reunite with old friends and make new ones. It’s what I would hope for their summers—just with a little more structure and a little less me. And I have a great job. I love what I do and the people with whom I work. I realize how fortunate I am in that respect.
But there are still times when I wish my kids could experience a summer of nothing, which, without them knowing it, is really an opportunity to build relationships and develop independence and use their imagination in beautiful ways. Spending nine hours away from them Mondays through Fridays—instead of watching them race in the pool for the seventy-eighth time after eating a fudgesicle and risking those rumored and dreaded swimmers’ cramps? Not my favorite. I wish we could escape to the coolness of the library for an hour to wander the shelves. I wish I could wake up to signs like this one, which I found on my pillow one Saturday morning a couple of years ago, all the time in the summer:
Finally, as my kids are eleven and almost eight, I wish that I did not see the number of summers I have left with them to be dwindling and going by so fast.
I hope my kids look back on their childhood summers with fondness. May they have wonderful memories of camp and appreciate that when they got home, they played outside with their friends on the block well after the sun set. I will do my best to enjoy my time with them on the weekends and the few vacation days I plan to take—whether that is a day trip to explore a waterfall or a museum or just sitting on the porch and watching them play from a distance. I might even jump into the pool and teach them one of my synchronized swimming routines from 1985.