Ahh….summer… school’s out. A time for warm breezes, playtime and bbq’s. Everything seems sunnier and we dream of days off with family and friends. Life is easier. And moms everywhere are stressed and worried. Wait, whut?
For those of us R.W.’s who are moms, or are somehow responsible for kids in our lives, the onset of summer means our planning and organizational skills have to once again kick in to overdrive. Our children are no longer in school. That means filling approximately 10 weeks of… something. When our kids are very young, the change in schedule mostly revolves around who is taking care of them, and how to afford an increase in childcare cost. As they get a bit older, there is the rush to sign them up for camps, workshops, sports events and special activities. This planning is not unlike being an air traffic controller, tracking multiple dates, transportation needs, emergency back-up plans, packing lunches or sunscreen for each day, calming nervous bellies, wiping away possible tears, and determining how many activities our budgets will allow. Keeping our young ones busy, healthy and safe during the summer is a second or third job. But we manage. We find a way to keep them happy and active.
Then something happens. Those kids get older. And they enter the Lost Age zone. As tweens and early teens, they grow too old for camps and children’s field trips. Those who are in sports may still have some opportunities, but what if a child either doesn’t enjoy, or for some reason can’t play, sports? They are not old enough to work or drive. They are, however, now old enough to be home alone with limited to no supervision. They no longer need babysitters. If both parents work outside the house, and the child is not within an easy walk or bike ride of any form of safe activity, they are, in affect, trapped at home.
So they enter the summertime abyss. And while our sons or daughters are home, we moms are at work or school or volunteering, or whatever takes us away from the house, worrying about them. Because guess what is calling to them from deep in the abyss? Screens. Lots of screens. Video game systems, tvs, computers, mobile devices and smart phones. And with no supervision, we know darn well they are spending their days moving from one screen to the next. We worry that when we get home, we will be greeted by a zombie where our child used to be. This zombie has the glazed-eye look, a sullen or snippy demeanor, and moves only at a snail’s pace. Without planned activities, our child has been sucked into the Lost Age Vortex and replaced by a shell of a tween.
I have recently been commiserating with other R.W. moms in my life about this issue, and comparing notes on how creative we try to be in battling the dark chasm of inactivity. One of my friends has two boys, both tweens. Both into sports. One of her sons is very busy and active with athletic camps and sports conditioning sessions. The other son has an injured foot. This summer he can’t participate in the usual activities. Welcome to life on the sofa. Facing screens. She is trying hard to come up with things for him to do. Today she shared with me that he now finds it optional to get dressed and brush his teeth every day. Yup, he’s started the slippery slope to the sloth side.
Another R.W. mom friend has a son who is just starting to grow out of the camp years. And this summer he is “hating” camp. He wants to be home. With his screens. Getting his mind melded by high resolution graphics and sophisticated digital plots. Which leads to being hopelessly unmotivated or driven to participate in any form of activity. We moms try to leave To Do chore lists or hobby ideas. But the pull of the abyss is too strong.
I know, because my son every day battles the lure of the summer dark side. He has not yet found a part-time job that is within walking or biking distance of home. He will soon be starting Driver Ed , so I know next year, he will be able to transport himself to a job or volunteer work or other activities. But for this year, he’s a homebody. More accurately depicted, he is a cave dweller because he rarely leaves his room. Every day I leave chore lists, and ideas for things to do, like cleaning out his closet, emptying the dishwasher, getting some exercise, doing his laundry. We have home projects we are even willing to pay him to accomplish, like staining the back deck and mowing the lawn. Usually, one or two of the easiest items on the list are finished. The rest, not so much. Because they require much more effort than sitting in a chair with a controller in hand facing a screen.
I realize that this is likely his last summer of lots of free time. I try to rationalize the situation — he will be working for the rest of his life, so why not have one more summer to be off, to be a kid, to be a little lazy? Why not cut our tweens and early teens some slack? Because, as moms, we struggle with how much slack to give before it becomes detrimental. Truth be told, there’s some guilt there as well. When many of us were kids, we had a parent who was home, at least part of the time, during the day. We had supervision, we had someone to take us places if it was too far to bike, like to swim lessons or craft classes or to outings with friends. We felt safe playing outside all day and all evening. We had vacations with the family. Today, much of that has changed. Parents are home less, unsupervised outside activities are less safe, and in a recent article in Women’s Health magazine, it was stated that more than 40% of Americans didn’t take a single day off last year.
I’m sure at some point in the future, we will look back at the Abyss years and realize it was just a blip in time, and our kids survived and went on to become healthy, productive members of society, with good memories of the summers of their youth. When those days come then maybe, just maybe, we will stop worrying and stressing about the season and learn to relax and enjoy it. And we will finally feel like it is summertime, and the livin’ is easy.