I was all set to write a post about how difficult it is to navigate the summer months, especially when you're a mom who works outside of the house. There are end-of-year-school events that you need to attend (and take off work time for), as well as 10+ weeks of camp, vacation, and just plain down time to supervise.
It IS hard, and it seems that your life becomes a bit upended (at least mine does) by the pull and tug of work and home even more so that during the school year. This has led me for many years to do the bus stop jig come the last week of August, when the kids finally head back to school and a more normalized rhythm pervades our house.
On top of that tension, there is the cost of camp – a mind-blowing experience every summer. Although my teen has been working for a few summers, and my tween is now, at last, off the camp dole by becoming a CIT and babysitter for the summer, there is still the cost of my 10-year-old's month-long sleep-away camp, plus another month of sports camps. When you toss in the neighborhood pool fee, and even a low-key driving vacation for five people on top of that, we are already in 5-digit numbers just for the summer.
Of course, these are all choices, and we could also choose to do nothing all summer and let it just wash over us like water for free. But that would put me in the untenable position of either leaving my kids all alone for days at a time, or not working, neither of which I want to do. So a good portion of my income goes to supporting our summer habits.
Every year, on the first day of summer, I hold my breath and jump, praying that it will all work itself out.
So I was completely prepared to qvetch about how hard it is to balance the work and the play at this time of year. But then a friend mentioned something that I had never really thought about.
She said that even though it is hard to be a working mom and deal with the seemingly endless swim team and camp schedules, summer is also a wonderful time, because it's the time she gets to say "yes" instead of "no." She can say yes to sleepovers, just because. She can say yes to staying at the pool until it closes. She can say yes to long nights in the backyard chasing fireflies, and then watching a movie on the spur of the moment. And she can say yes to just being still and quiet for a day, having fun doing nothing.
I've been so busy holding my breath and trying to make sure that kids lives were in place for the more erratic summer schedule, I have forgotten to let that breath out and allow us to relax into the heat of the summer. I have forgotten the "yes."
Thirteen years ago, when I was pregnant with my daughter, I knew that I was going to be taking an extended, five-month parental leave in between jobs. She was born in May, and I had visions of taking the baby and my four-year-old son to the pool, where I would sit in the shade with a straw hat and my son would splash and we would all enjoy long, lounge-filled days on the side of the pool, sipping juice and reading beach novels.
I forgot that infants need to cry, and nurse, and nap, and cry, and nurse and nap. And that a four-year-old who doesn’t yet swim is not one to be left to his own devices at the pool. So my straw-hat summer was quickly abandoned for the first of many years where I was juggling my kids' needs and eventually, again, my work. Few novels, even the lightest beach reading, have been devoured during these somewhat stressful months for me.
I have the extraordinary luxury to be able to work from home, and flexibly set my schedule so that I can be around to help shepherd my kids and take care of their needs while they still need me close to home. And while I don't stop working in the summer, I definitely have an easier schedule – there are fewer meetings because so many of the people with whom I meet leave town for much of the summer, and I can focus on a few projects that are doable as easily from home as from the office.
I still don't like having to twist myself into a pretzel getting my children to and from the various places they need to be during my work hours. But, in fact, I do find myself enjoying the same getting to "yes" that my friend does. Later bedtimes. More spontaneous outings. Sitting on our porch into the evening hours, having private talks in the gloaming before the night falls. Frozen yogurt runs.
Each year, as my children get a little bigger, it gets a little easier. By the time the youngest is in high school, I am sure I will be back to working a more routine schedule and allowing him enormous freedom to roam at will. And the "how do I manage the summer" parenting stress will become a thing of history, like so many other parenting moments.
And while I will miss the sweetness of the summer "yes", as I do so many other moments my children have outgrown, I will look forward to having both a more easily managed work life, as well as downloading the latest Jennifer Weiner onto my Nook and spending a gloriously lazy Sunday afternoon sipping a pina colada at the pool. Straw hat optional.
Photo by elana's pantry via flickr