I have been trying to write about this excellent piece over on Double X, where Elizabeth Weil talks about how she wound up making her daughter attend summer camp even though the 6-year-old didn’t really want to but what other choice did Mom have, you know? She had to get work done! School vacation is interminably long! There were no other options!
Yes, I have been wanting to commiserate with Weil, tell her I’ve been there, I AM there — that there are simply not enough affordable options for school-aged kids in the summer run on a schedule amenable to the working parent. But I can’t. No free time! Because I’m having childcare problems of my own.
Like Weil, I signed up my two daughters, 8 and 4, for day camp. Like Weil, I am sensitive to the fact that my children are not enjoying their time with Coach Ryan and Coach Meghan and really just go because they’re not given a choice.
Unlike Weil, however, I don’t feel guilty. I just feel disappointed, angry even.
Why are there so few options for kids in the summer? Summer camps are week-at-a-time deals. And expensive. Often, they’re only half-days or a few hours in the morning. So by the time you get home after drop-off, you’ve got 45 minutes to work before having to go back and pick them up.
I also don’t feel conflicted like Weil does. She wants summer to involve lots of laying about and unstructured days for her girls and sure, that would be nice. That was definitely how it worked when I was a kid. But I was also allowed to run free from morning until dinnertime, doing things my parents had no idea about.
If I turned my girls loose like that I’d get arrested. My only option is to send them out back. But after 10 minutes of cloud-watching, the two would be back up in my stuff asking for a snack or whacking each other with Barbies. Unless you live in the country, lazy summer days that slowly unfold involve lots and lots of planning and careful execution.
Another mom I know was lamenting that fact that her girls would return to school mid-August. I thought she was joking — a six-week summer vacation sounds about right to me (if not a few weeks too long). She thought it was unfair that the other kids still had a month of summer beach days, summer travel, summer TV, summer bedtimes, whereas her kids were soon back to the grind.
But I think she, like most Americans, has a romantic notion of summer breaks which just don’t exist for the middle- and upper middle-class anymore. All that TV and weird bedtimes — that’s what weekends are for. We Americans are programmed for programs, and those programs are currently our only options. Whether our kids like them isn’t relevant.
You know, like school. Can’t they just go back to school?
What about you, especially working moms? What do you do with the kids during summer?