At 2:18 p.m. last Thursday, I came to an unpopular conclusion: summer is kind of terrible. I know I was literally just complaining about May and all the end-of-school-year craziness so maybe I have contentment issues, but nevertheless I firmly stand by my assessment.
I work part-time from home, averaging around 15-20 hours in a given week. From August to May, I have childcare that totals … roughly 15-20 hours. Matches up nicely, doesn’t it? Ten months of the year, it really is like having the best of both worlds. My work gets done, my kids learn things, and our schedule still has plenty of time for unstructured fun.
But then school ends, all that lovely childcare evaporates, and what was once the best is now the worst. I don’t make enough money to justify the cost of summer camps, so I’m stuck cobbling together a patchwork of reasonably-priced and free child supervision options.
We live on a quiet street that we love, populated mostly by elderly widows (and one very in-demand widower), but during the summer I long for one of those big, multi-hundred-house subdivisions where I could just turn my children loose at the end of the cul-de-sac to play with a whole crew of similarly-aged kids. Alas, our neighborhood skews considerably older and since my kids’ bridge-playing skills are nil, I’m scouring community Facebook groups for every free event out there.
Speaking of, how many Vacation Bible Schools would you say is too many? Five would be pushing it, right?
Despite what I manage to splice together, I end up working a not-insignificant amount with my kids around. Or attempting to work would probably be more accurate, since I’m asked to fix a snack, find a toy, arbitrate a disagreement, and if I’m done and it’s time to go to the pool yet, roughly every four minutes.
Even just trying to write this essay; I mean, okay, fine, it’s partially my fault because it’s raining and I should definitely know better than to attempt to work on a rainy day in the summer. But the deadline was like, yesterday, so I tell the kids to go play for a bit while mom works.
Three sentences later, my seven-year-old, Nathan, is back.
“Mom, can we play Quidditch in the house?”
“What does that entail?” I ask. Suspicious.
“Well, I’ll be the Beater and Ellie will be the Chaser, and I’m gonna be trying to hit her with these (he indicates the assortment of not-very-soft-looking balls filling his arms), but don’t worry, I won’t throw them very hard or anything.”
“Uh, that’s a hard no, bud. No wizarding games in the house. Why don’t you two watch something?”
“No thanks, Mom. I’d rather play.” If you’re curious about how often I’m using screen time to get my work done, the answer is apparently more than my children can bear. Which I didn’t even know was a thing but there you have it.
And I know. I know I need to be soaking up this time. That they’ll only be 4 and 7 once and thanks to that viral essay I read the other day, I’m now very aware that we only have 11 more summers left with Nathan before he goes off to college, and we should be carpe-ing all the diems between now and then and building magical memories that he’ll treasure forever because one day my house will be quiet and empty and I’ll miss them terribly.
Just stop it. You had me at “quiet and empty house.”
On Monday, my husband left for a work trip of an indeterminate length of time.
“My return flight is booked for Wednesday, but I could be gone the rest of the week,” he said as packed five days’ worth of clothes in his carry-on bag. His travel coincides with our babysitter’s vacation, and suddenly I’m staring down an entire week with no scheduled childcare and I groan, thinking of the begging, pleading, and bribing that will take place as I try to string together consecutive minutes of work.
Maybe I could try to be the fun, adventurous mom for a day? As if somehow knocking it out the park today will earn me compliant, quiet children for the rest of the week. This may be utter nonsense, but it’s the best hand I have to play, so I pack a backpack with water, snacks, and sunscreen and tell the kids to get their shoes on.
“Come on guys! Let’s go on a surprise adventure!” I say with mock enthusiasm in my voice.
“Yes! That sounds awesome, Mom!” Nathan’s response is genuinely enthusiastic, because he is my eternal optimist.
I load everyone in the car, and we set off for the park across town with a walking trail that circles the lake. Naturally, we hit gridlock traffic at 10 a.m. on the outskirts of Nashville. I check my Waze app.
“Multi-car crash reported ahead. Estimated wait time in traffic, 40 minutes.”
Splendid. Then a voice from the backseat.
“Uh, Mom? Does the place we’re going adventuring have a bathroom?”
I quickly cut across all five lanes of traffic to take the last exit before the point of no return. Ten minutes later we’re back on track and 30 minutes after that, we’re parking in the last empty spot in the lot next to the visitor’s center.
We easily locate the lake trail and set off, the kids scampering ahead of me. Their speed lasts for approximately 72 seconds, and then they need water and a snack. I’m handing them Ziploc bags of goldfish when a park ranger appears out of nowhere.
“I’m sorry,” he says, although if he sounds sorry about anything, it’s how many times a day he has to utter this phrase. “This is a no snack trail.” A no snack trail? What fresh hell is this?
The snacks go back in the backpack, and my children’s interest in adventure disappears simultaneously. They are hot. It’s too far. Their feet are sleepy. I forge on for 20 minutes, no longer seeking fun but only to tire them out. When we finally turn around, Ellie collapses into the dirt. Her legs no longer work, she tells me. She needs a shoulder ride.
With Ellie on my shoulders and Nathan whining about why he has to be too big to be carried, we plod onward. After what feels like an eternity, we can see the parking lot. The end is near, and I sigh with relief. A woman with very blonde hair and very tanned legs is walking toward us. I offer her a smile and a nod as we move to the side of the path to let her pass when she stops me.
“How far is it to the lake?” she asks. She gestures to her feet, in flip flops, and explains she’s wondering if she needs different footwear. Who starts walking down a path into the woods in flip flops, I wonder. But I answer her question.
“Oh not far, maybe five minutes?”
“Great; thanks,” she says. I turn to continue down the short path to the parking lot. So close. Blonde Hair Tan Legs doesn’t move. She starts explaining that she’s been in town for CMA Fest, Nashville’s annual country music festival. She tells me how much her tickets cost and where she sat at every single show and that she wanted to see a bit of nature before flying back home to Arizona. Did I know that it got to 120 degrees in the summer there? But that’s a dry heat, of course; nothing like this awful humidity we have here.
“I just don’t know how you stand it,” she says, shaking her head.
All of my clothes are sticking to my body. Ellie feels like she weighs 400 pounds instead of 40. Our cheeks are flushed, our hairlines are damp, and our water bottles are nearly empty after walking—at a very leisurely pace, I might add—for a mere 45 minutes. You’re preachin’ to the choir here, lady.
“Yep, it’s pretty miserable.” Agreement seems the best way to keep moving down the path toward my car. “Well, enjoy your walk.” She still doesn’t move.
“Everyone here is so nice and helpful; that Southern hospitality really is everything you hear it is. But, just between you and me,” she says, as she leans closer. I step back. ”You can’t all be as nice as you seem, right?”
“You can be nice to anyone for five minutes,” I shrug. “That’s the way most of us see it, anyway.”
Suddenly she seems to notice Ellie and Nathan for the first time and proceeds to inquire about their names and ages. Are you going to have more kids, she wants to know. Or are you done because you have one of each?
Geez lady. If you must know, that’s actually a pretty fraught subject because I want another kid and my husband doesn’t and we’ve done several months of couples’ counseling to move past it, but gosh it’s kind of you, complete stranger, to pry in this way whilst I have 40 lbs of four year old on my shoulders.
But, because it’s only been about 4 minutes and 30 seconds, I don’t say any of that. Instead I fake chuckle and say no, my shoulders can’t accommodate any more kids right now.
Finally, blessedly, she moves on and we make it back to the car. I turn the air conditioning on full blast, and Ellie is asleep before we hit the interstate. Which means she won’t nap when we get home, and I’ll spend the afternoon trying to get work done between getting out the PlayDoh, putting up the PlayDoh, and scraping the PlayDoh off my kitchen floor.
I keep telling myself that, come September, I’ll find my days are strangely quiet and that I actually kind of miss my constant sidekicks. Because I will. I might not love summer in the middle of it but I do love having summered. After a month of our regularly-scheduled activities this fall, the frustration and panic I felt for 10 weeks will ebb and all I’ll be able to recall is catching lightning bugs in the backyard, Ellie learning to swim, Nathan reading an entire Harry Potter book all by himself, and the day we hiked around the lake. It’s not the work that will stick with me but the moments I fight to cram in between the work, and, come September, that will be all kinds of beautiful and profound.
But right now it’s July, and I just heard about another VBS that sounds fantastic.