This Friday my children will bid their teachers goodbye and sign yearbooks and clean out their desks and bring home pencil boxes and stacks of papers and, elated, they will fling their backpacks down in the mudroom, rejoicing that they won’t be going back to school until late August. And part of me will rejoice with them: no more making school lunches every night; no more car pools; no more hours spent helping a certain ten-year-old child with homework while she cries and fumes and asks why she can’t drop out of school; no more band concerts and piano recitals and play performances and soccer games. I’m looking forward to a more relaxed routine and warm days spent lazing by the pool and picnics at dinnertime and evenings spent outside, gazing at the stars and roasting marshmallows and listening to crickets chirping in the darkness. Yes, it’s going to be grand.
But who am I kidding? Because while part of me enjoys having my children home and looks forward to an idyllic summer vacation, another part of me knows that an idyllic summer vacation doesn’t exist and that it only takes about two days for the whining, bickering, and boredom to start, punctuated by endless video game marathons and requests for more Otter Pops. That part of me feels like I’m staring into the gaping jaws of Hell.
Every year I begin the summer with high hopes and a determination that this summer will be great. I make up a schedule: we’ll have a half hour of chores, a half hour of reading and math, and a half hour of exercise every day. I make a list of summertime activities to break up the boredom; my kids will stage puppet shows and start an insect collection and have water balloon fights and go on nature walks. I pencil in a few camps, some tennis lessons, an art class or two, and story time at the library. But then I also make sure to leave lots of free time for daydreaming, swimming, reading, going to the movies, and building forts (yes, I can hear your snickers).
Of course, all of my plans unravel during week one when my thirteen-year-old announces he doesn’t like swimming or water balloon fights anymore, and my ten-year-old can’t find anyone to play with and will have nothing to do with puppets, and my sixteen-year-old decides he’s too cool to go to a movie with his family, and no one will work on the summer math activity books I bought, and everyone complains that it’s too hot to go outside, looking at me with scorn and outrage when I suggest collecting bugs or going on nature walks or building forts. So they gravitate to the computer and the Xbox 360, or put on one Star Wars movie after another and then all three Lord of the Rings movies—the extended versions—while I’m wracked with guilt because my children are turning into video game addicts and couch potatoes. And I find myself making lunches for my children and the extra ten neighborhood children who spend all day at my house, and wiping up spilled juice and the tracked-in dirt while listening to the dog bark every time the doorbell rings—over the sound of exploding spaceships on TV. And I realize I have eleven more weeks of this. And then I’m weeping as I head to the grocery store for more Creamies.
And yet, somehow, by the end of the summer, though I’m relieved when school starts again, I’m also a little sad, too. Go figure. And that’s how it’s been every summer for me since my children have been in school. How about you? What do you love/hate about summer vacation? What secrets can you share about keeping your children occupied and happy and yourself sane during the summer months? And those of you who have children in year-round schools, I’d like to hear from you, too. Do you like/dislike having shorter summer vacations? Please share your thoughts/ideas.