This post is the unedited version of my Dallas Morning News article published in The Briefing on Thursday, May 17.
“Winter is coming.” The motto from George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series evokes dread, foreboding, and the sense that preparations are urgent. For at-home parents, a different phrase makes our blood run cold – “summer is coming.”
When my friend Karen gushed that she loved having her children with her all summer, I looked at her like she had three heads. Don’t get me wrong, my four children, from the toddler to the college girl, are the most interesting, adorable, entertaining people on the planet, but summer is an at-home parent’s crunch time, like tax season for accountants. We are hands-on 24/7, in full blown cruise director mode, needing a response to “Mom, what are we going to do today?”, “What is there to eat?” and “Make him stop bothering me!” Schools have been nurturing, teaching, listening to, feeding, and protecting my children for seven or more hours a day that are now mine to fill. I can’t just direct them outside on an August afternoon; I may as well send them to play in the oven. Swimming requires constant vigilance, squeezing myself into a bathing suit, and schlepping soggy accoutrement. Even with help from the teenagers in the house, my workload multiplies.
When I began to fret over the children’s summer a few weeks ago, the twelve and a half weeks stretched out before me like frozen tundra, and I heard the cruel wind howling, like it will whistle through their ears if I don’t do something to stimulate their minds. Nothing makes me feel like a bad mother more than seeing my six-year-old hypnotized by the television, in the same position he was in two hours ago, except that the snack has changed. If he’s not sedated by the glowing box, he’s apt to wreak havoc — loud, messy, sister-scream-inducing havoc. I also worry that he will forget what he learned in kindergarten. Research shows that children lose an average of 2.6 months of learning in math over the summer, and can also forget reading and spelling. No one in my family can afford to lose any math skills.
A generous dose of forethought, followed by decisive action, is the best balm for anxiety, so I started to think the problem through. Our family vacation week at the beach stands as an oasis in this summer wasteland. Their dad is a busy attorney, so at least that was planned months in advance. The other eleven and a half weeks are now dotted with affordable plans for Vacation Bible School, swim lessons, a Lego day camp, and participating in our library’s summer reading program. My 8th grader will volunteer at the library, and the college girl has planned classes and volunteering for herself. Sports through our YMCA will be a good outlet for my boy’s boundless energy.
As for the blanks in between, I’ve declared it a summer of science, ordering a pile of children’s science experiment books from eBay. We’ll use a hobby store gift certificate I’ve been hoarding for supplies. During the school year, I forbid able-bodied children from watching TV on weekdays. This year, that rule will stay in place for summer. I can work a few practice math questions into the daily mix, and the boy and I will both feel more confident about first grade.
As I looked back over the calendar and thought about doing all these things, I started to get excited. We’ll mix vinegar and baking soda and see what happens, then build a potato clock. I even started early and got some caterpillars to grow into butterflies. They are making chrysalises today, much to our delight. Maybe Karen’s three heads were on to something. Summer is coming, and I can’t wait.