As a child, summers were relaxing. It seemed like we lazed around the pool for days on end, went to the beach, played with our friends. The days lasted forever and the weeks were never-ending.
But, my experience of summer as a parent is dramatically different that it was a child. While summer is still very enjoyable and filled with a lot of fun, summer as a parent of young children is anything but relaxing. In fact, I find that most Mondays I return to work more exhausted than when I left on Friday. Sure, part of it is that we are trying to cram too much fun into each weekend, but another part of it is simply that “relaxing” activities of my carefree, childless days now require significantly more energy and work in order to be successful (or survive).
Let’s start with the last day of school. As a child, the last day of school was filled with ice cream, the sweet relief of the school year ending, and excitement about endless summer possibilities. But as a parent, I am responsible for the dismantling of the backpack. And, inside that backpack on the last day of school is the copious amount of work that my child needs to do over the summer in order to not lose the gains that he made during the school year. It is the journal, new sight words, educational websites to visit, the list of books to be read … and, before the summer has even started, I am already overwhelmed. It feels very much like homework for me. And, while I know that it is important to maintain what my kids learned all year, it also feels like one more thing on my to-do list. This is exactly why several parents that I know spent the first week of summer identifying and interviewing tutors.
Summer parties. Ahh, how I miss the days when I could sit in a chair, socialize with friends, and eat delicious food. Now, the children take over the corn hole games and the entire day could be ruined if I accidentally put ketchup on a hotdog that day—the very day, my child has decided that he does not like ketchup on his hot dog.
Campfires. What is better than sitting around a fire and laughing with friends on a summer night … except when you have small children. My anxiety shoots through the roof every time I see a toddler, on wobbly legs, holding a marshmallow on a stick over a fire. Plus, it is already late and now we all need baths because we smell like burning wood.
Amateur fireworks. Before kids, I enjoyed when friends of ours would set off fireworks at their home at the end of a party. It was fun to drink and hang out enjoying our private fireworks show. But with kids, it involves arguing over who gets their favorite color glow sticks, crying because their noise-maker broke mid-fireworks, and worrying that a piece of burning ember similar to the one that just burned my arm might fall into my child’s eye while he is looking up and blind him.
Then, there’s the beach. My days of simply laying out on the warm sand and soaking up the sun, are over for now. First, I pack literally everything we own into the car, from beach toys, to snacks, to a change of clothes, to hats, to tents, to umbrellas, to music, to enough water to survive a week in the desert … and, of course, the wagon to pull it all in from the car to the beach. Once we arrive at our destination, I must apply sunscreen on the kids for the first of many, many, many times. Then, just when I am settled on my beach towel to relax, my kids will inevitably decide that they want to build a sand castle. And, not only will they need help to build said castle, they will also need to make one hundred and eighty thousand trips from our spot to the water’s edge to fill their bucket, only to have three quarters of the water spill out on the trek back. Mid-sand castle, they will need a snack, and it is important that they ruin all of the food in the cooler by touching everything with their sandy hands, and then either drop the food that they chose or accidentally feed it to a seagull. Now, we will all be hungry and decide to head out, but not before repacking our belongings, lugging them back to the car, and attempting to rinse off in the nasty beach shower. Good news though, once we get home, we can relax, right? Nope. That is when we will unload the car, wash all the items, put all the items away, vacuum the sand out of the car, bathe the dirty children, and begin the laundry….
And let us not forget to talk about the laundry. There is an endless supply of laundry all summer long. At any given moment, I have a dryer full of clothes to be folded, a washer full of clothes to be dried, and a pile full of dirty laundry just waiting to be cleaned so that we can start the cycle again. Despite having countless bathing suits and towels, the drawers are almost always empty because they never make it back from the laundry. Instead, they are recycled back into rotation just after being folded. And, despite what feels like a constant laundry fest going on, it never fails that I am up late at night, exhausted and desperate for sleep, waiting for some item to come out because it needs to be packed in my kid’s camp bag before tomorrow.
So, there you have it. The relaxing days of summer past have now become the still enjoyable, but also dog(gone), days of summer. But, do not get me wrong. I am not complaining (much). Parenting is hard work, but one day, when my exhaustion fades, there will be plenty of memories to take its place. After all, life is harder (but somehow better) with kids.