School is in session and summer is over. How did the Moms cope?
We think the song “Summer Nights’” from “Grease” pretty much sums it up. With some amended lyrics, of course.
Summer campin’, it’s hot outside
There were days when everyone cried
“Too much art!” our sweet girls said
Next year maybe something different instead?
Summer’s done, we had some fun
But uh oh, that tricky downtime…
“Nature is NOT fun Mommy and this is ALL YOUR FAULT!” Princess Slim shouted and pointed to her filthy legs and dirt-caked shoes. She marched into the bathroom and slammed the door. Nature Fun Camp was apparently not so fun.
Cue hot tears in my eyes and lump in my throat. And cue a little something I call Instaguilt™, one of the unexpected and unpleasant side effects of being a mother. Instaguilt™ is rampant in mothers who work outside the home and occurs primarily whenever the school nurse calls and during drop-off or pick-up times of day. Symptoms include feeling absolutely shredded about leaving or collecting offspring at or from camp/day care/school/Somewhere Else and an endless cycle of self-recrimination regarding career and life choices. No known treatment exists.
Instaguilt™ aside, this summer was an experiment for Princess Slim, and, by default, for our family. If you recall from the Lazy, Hazy post, we signed Slim up for a variety of camps as opposed to sending her to one place for the entire break. Yes, this meant lots of juggling for Dreamy and me as we had to constantly rework commuting arrangements; thankfully Kathy and iDad supported us during weeks in which extended care wasn’t available.
The larger issue was my major anxiety about how all this change would affect Princess Slim. All in all I think she did ok and seemed to enjoy herself at most of the places she went (note to self: no nature camp next year). Of the 11 total weeks off she was in camp for eight, and four of those weeks she went to camps along with BFF Doodlebug. Slim had other friends at the camps Doodlebug didn’t attend and was thus never in a position where she didn’t know anyone.
Slim also had two weeks off for trips to the farm and beach, respectively, a few days with me, and two days of mornings with a neighborhood sitter and afternoons with Dreamy. By the time the last camp finished, however, Slim was definitely over it and ready for some unstructured down time.
We learned a few things as a result. First, Slim and Doodlebug will tandem camp again next summer. It eased Slim’s jitters (and my guilt) knowing friends were around even if the physical location was new. Second, we have a better idea of what types of activities Slim likes, so when registration time rolls around we can make more informed choices. Finally, at seven years old one should be able to go see a movie in the middle of the day or read a book or go to the pool. It’s called “relaxing” and we need to do more of it. Thus we now know that taking a camp time-out here and there is necessary and, more importantly, good for her.
I realized this while watching her practice cartwheels on the beach. Could she be my introvert after all?
Cue hot tears in eyes, lump in throat.
Overall, this summer was . . . okay. I know, that’s hardly a ringing endorsement, but in comparison to years past, I’ll take it.
Block scheduling. Our decision to group Doodlebug’s camps together in a five-week chunk (with a week off in the middle) worked out so well that I think we’ll be doing camps that way from now on. I liked having those weeks of structured time grouped together, and Doodlebug had plenty of time before and after the block to just chill out. I think she enjoyed the change of pace during the camp weeks.
Pool time. Doodlebug and iDad spent many afternoons there, with friends and on their own. Since our school playground was being replaced over the summer, this was key for making sure Doodlebug stayed active. And since I didn’t usually (okay, ever) go along, it was a good, consistent source of me time. Everybody wins!
Having buddies. New rule: Doodlebug must always know someone at camp. Having Princess Slim as a partner in crime made those weeks much more fun (although I’m not sure how much the counselors loved this arrangement!). Aside from camp, we lucked out when our good friends who usually spend summers away decided to stay home this year. Lots of playdates, lots of ice cream!
- Work. I’m writing a novel, and I had big plans to take a break from it at the beginning of the summer (the hanging-out phase) and come back to it, refreshed and inspired, once Doodlebug started her camps. But then I signed up for a revision workshop, which meant I had to finish and submit my draft a few weeks after school got out. Calling those weeks stressful would be putting it mildly.
After that, I was supposed to leave the manuscript alone for a month, a month which included two weeks of camp. My plan to focus on other writing projects during those weeks was derailed by a nasty cold that turned into pinkeye. Not recommended!
- Unstructured time. A summer day can be very long. This is great when you’re seven, because you can fit in drawing AND reading AND playing with ponies AND watching TV. Doodlebug really needed those low-key days, but it was hard for me to let things unfold completely on her schedule. I wanted to give her time to do her own thing, but I wanted to be available if she wanted to do something together. Since I never knew which it was going to be, I spent a lot of time on little projects but never accomplished much. Those files in the basement, the ones I never organized when we moved in three years ago? Still a disaster.
Another facet to this is that I just plain don’t like not being in control of my time. I wish I could say that a few lazy summer days helped me let go of that a little, but they didn’t. What did work was (wait for it) having more control! Since we’re lucky enough to have iDad working at home, at the beginning of each day we set up a time when I would be off-duty for an hour or two. That helped immensely, and if we’re both still at home for future summers we’ll make sure to stick with that system.
But I’m interested to know how other parents handle this, especially people without backup. Do you set a schedule for together time vs. alone time when you know you’ll be home all day? Do you just resign yourself to the fact that you won’t get as much done over the summer? If you do feel like you’ve found a good balance, I’d love to know your strategies! Because there’s always next summer…