Thursday, June 11, 2015

No, I Don't Love Summer Vacation And You Don't Have To, Either

"Aren't you just SO ready for summer?"

If I had a nickel for every time I've smiled and nodded politely while completely evading the answer to that question, I could treat ever summer lovin' parent in our slice of suburban paradise to a stevia-sweetened popsicle, a bottle of certified organic SPF 480 sunscreen, and an up-cycled pool noodle (gluten-free, of course).

This is a conversation that typically begins around Memorial Day and runs right through the last day of school, and while I listen to my fellow parents wax poetic about the seemingly endless stretch of freedom that lies ahead, I secretly die a little inside.

With every mention of summer's lack of structure (is it getting hot in here?), I feel my blood pressure rise. When I hear them praise the long, lazy days unstructured days (seriously- could someone turn on the AC?) I feel like I might pass out.

So at the risk of forever being known as the Grinch Who Stole Summer Vacation (and before I develop a rash of some sort), I'm just going to say it:

I don't love summer.

Correction, I DO love summer, in that I love warm weather, extended daylight, sunshine on my shoulders, and the smell of afternoon rain. What I don't love, to be clear, is summer vacation. And even there- I actually DO love summer vacation...for about 3 weeks. But three MONTHS? That part makes me want to hurt someone.

Because here's the truth: I love structure. I mean, I really LOVE structure. As in, I'd like to hug and kiss and marry structure and have its very structured babies, whom I would name Routine, Order, and  Structure, Jr. and send to year-round school.

Now before you accuse me of not being a loving parent, or not wanting to spend time with my kids, let me assure you, I adore my offspring. I want nothing more than to travel with them, swim with them, and picnic in the park with them. For about 3 weeks.

Let me also say that I am a working mom, by choice, and while I love my career and my intention is not to throw down the gauntlet in yet another pointless battle in the Mommy Wars, let's be honest about the fact that summer vacation poses a particular challenge for working parents. Add in the fact that I work from home...(Do those look like hives to you?)

To make matters worse, I've never been a loosey-goosey, fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, kick-back-and-relax kind of girl. I'm a Type-A, information junkie, workaholic journalist, which means I live or die by deadlines every single day. I'm accustomed to getting an enormous amount done in a very small amount of time, and the rhythm and schedule of school is a big piece of how I do it. A typical day for me is all about getting everyone up, in the car, to school, then I frantically work until preschool pickup. When my youngest goes down for his nap, I go back to work until the big kids come home, at which point I'm back on, taking care of everyone's needs and activities until we reach bedtime and I can sneak in a few more hours of work late at night. My job certainly does not afford me the ability to take three months off, and my personality wouldn't let me even if it did.

But whether you work outside of the home or you're a stay-at-home parent, can we all just PLEASE admit that it IS possible to get too much of a good thing, say, for example, 104 consecutive days of vacation every year for 12+ years of your life, at which point, if you're lucky enough to find one, your first job might offer a generous 2 weeks? And while many of us try to provide educational opportunities for our kids during the summer months, it's not like this massive break from formal education is making us any smarter. Have you read the comments section of any online publication lately?

I honestly believe that structure is good for kids, and I think that deep down most parents agree. Research has shown just how much learning kids lose over the summer, and that they tend to sleep better, eat better, and generally behave better when there is a concrete framework governing their daily lives. Sure, some parents go overboard when it comes to scheduling every last second of their kids' time, particularly during the school year...but THREE MONTHS?

No matter how old your kids are, summer vacation means becoming a full-time cruise director for the S.S. Family Fun. Which is exhausting. And expensive. And involves a lot of splash parks, bounce houses, sports teams, camps and "enrichment" programs. By mid-August, I will enroll my kids in pretty much anything, including classes that sound like they were designed by randomly arranging magnetic words on a refrigerator: Underwater Fencing For Creative Problem Solving? Great! Solar Basket Racers With Collaborative Feng Shui Techniques For Boys? And it's from 9am-3pm? I'm all over it.

At some point as a society, don't we need to ask ourselves WHY we're doing this?

My kids have been out of school for roughly 32 hours, and at this point have eaten everything in our house (including many non-food items- has anyone seen my phone charger? Or the cat?), we have at least a dozen plastic baggies which now contain either an insect, a bunch of rocks, or some other random collection of junk, and we're down 3 bottles of sunscreen and 1 can of bug repellent (which clearly didn't work on the poor chap in the baggie). The playroom is a minefield of still wet finger paint, melty beads (OUCH!), and a bunch of other arts and crap...I mean, crafts. Ahh, summer.

For those of you out there who might be freaking out a little at the thought of the next three months, I just want you to know that it's OK not to love every minute. I sure don't.

So if you ever want to join me in drowning your sorrows in a glass of wine one night, you know where to find me- hunched over my computer working like a fiend.

For the rest of you unabashed summer vacation lovers (who I'm also guessing love things like half-day kindergarten), I will drink a toast (or 12) to you. Enjoy your three (SHUDDER) unstructured months, and I'll be sure to check back with you in about 3 weeks.

In any case, cheers to summer.

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