When I think back to summer vacations, I remember doing a whole lot of nothing. Swimming at the local pool, playing chase and Nintendo, swaying on swings just shooting the breeze. I never attended a camp or a program, and by the time I started getting bored with the time off, I was old enough to get a job.
My son is about to enter pre-K in September, so my wife and I thought it would be good to acclimate him to working with a teacher and saying goodbye to mom and dad. (When he was two, he attended a preschool program for a couple of mornings a week. He didn’t seem ready for it, and he had a tough year. Aside from that, he’s never been on his own in a classroom-type environment.) So we enrolled him for a program at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden that will occupy him for two mornings a week for three weeks. Otherwise? Felix will either be with me or his babysitter.
I wouldn’t have thought this would be a problem, but turns out it is. The neighborhood streets seem quieter now than they did a few weeks ago, when everyone was in school. People are traveling, and in programs, or at summer camp, or busy with friends they made from school. Felix keeps wondering where everyone is. “Busy,” I tell him. So much for the long, empty days of summer.
In an essay on The New York Times Motherlode blog, “Welcoming a Summer Break from the Rug-Rat Race,” Kate Egan raises a similar point, though in a different context. She writes about how happy she is that summer is here, since it will mean a more relaxed schedule for her kids, busy as they are during the school year with after and even before school activities. She wonders if more might be gained if she kept her kids home to play instead of filling their schedule up, but then reconsiders: “If my children stay home to play after school, guess what? Those children down the street, their very best friends, they won’t be home. Actually, nobody will be home. Because everyone who can run this gauntlet [of extracurriculars] does.”
It’s the same here in Brooklyn, except that the gauntlet extends through the summer months, a sharp contrast from my childhood. But that’s just how things go nowadays, I guess. Pre-school starts at two, and by the time kids get to kindergarten they’re expected to know their ABCs and count to twenty and line up single-file.
As a kid who doesn’t attend pre-school, Felix already feels a bit isolated, I think. Often he asks about play dates, or meeting up with a friend, and I have to break it to him that his buddies are mostly in school. Sometimes he brings up kids he hasn’t seen in years, he’s so desperate for peers. As Evans puts it in her essay, it’s hard being an outlier. And lonely.
Sadly, my wife and I, not being very on the ball in some ways — for example, we forgot that because his birthday fell around Memorial Day no one would be around, and so his party didn’t happen — neglected to consider summer plans for the boy. I tell ya, not only have times changed for kids, but for parents too. It takes a lot of effort to think about the calendar and program options and all that! I have enough trouble managing my own schedule, let alone his. They need an app for that, or something.
One upside to all of this is that whereas Felix used to feel negatively about school, he’s now excited for it to begin. And in that regard, I feel like we’ve done a good job. We didn’t push him into school when he didn’t seem ready, instead we trusted that one day he’d come around to the idea. That day has come. I only wish we had thought to pack his summer schedule with some activities!