Thursday, June 30, 2011

Embarking upon summer break

For some reason, school vacation anxiety hit me yesterday morning much harder than it should have. Really? I thought as I contemplated the faces of my two children happily downing their cinnamon bagels at breakfast. Ten weeks together, with almost no identifiable plans?

I’m not usually like this. My kids, unlike a lot of their friends, don’t like having a long list of scheduled activities. To use Lenore Skenazy’s wonderful and popular terminology, they are free-range kids, but not so much because of any ideology of mine as just because that’s how they like it. We offer them access to day camps and lessons and team sports, but for the most part, they’d rather keep their free time free. Tim plays on a summer baseball league (which takes up no small amount of time: two evenings a week plus both weekend mornings, but that still leaves his weekdays wide open until about 5 p.m.) and Holly consented to letting me sign her up for a weeklong creative-writing program, but that was mostly because the leader is her favorite teacher. Earlier in the spring she expressed interest in recorder lessons, but then looked a little bit relieved when we learned that the recorder teacher we wanted would be out of town until mid-July. They like old-fashioned, wide-open summer days. So why did a wave of apprehension wash over me as their second full day of vacation began?

In part, it might be the contrast of my calendar this month. When I realized back in February that I’d be attending a week-long conference in Colorado during their last week of school, the timing seemed ideal. Though other parents (and kids) bemoaned the fact that the winter’s surplus of snow days had extended our school year into late June, for me, as I planned my trip west, every extra day of school meant one less day I had to figure out childcare during my absence.

But what I didn’t anticipate was the sharp contrast between being utterly self-indulgent for a week, during which I filled my days with writing, author panels, lectures and outdoor activities, and returning home just in time to have my days filled with…them. My two children, whom I love and enjoy but who for some reason seemed like a mystery to me yesterday. How do I make this work?, I wondered, contemplating the ten weeks ahead, befuddled despite the fact that this is our third consecutive summer together since I left the full-time work force, and daily harmony has never been much of a problem during their vacations before.

One day at a time, I told myself, and maybe that’s what did the trick, because as it turned out, the day was a pleasure. I finished my run before Rick left for work and was exercised and showered – which is to say serene, cool, and full of endorphins – by the time the late-sleeping kids awoke. I made them breakfast, and then per our usual deal, I worked for a couple of hours while Tim indulged in computer games and Holly cranked up my iPod and did some dancing, after which she made a book for her favorite new pseudo-pet, a rubbery Technicolor caterpillar. (There’s a whole section of the book she made titled ‘Celebrity Caterpillars.’ I confessed the only one I could think of was the Very Hungry one. Oh, and the patron saint of bulldozers.)

I stopped working at lunchtime and together the three of us tackled the pile of belongings they’d brought home from the last day of school on Monday. Folders and binders that were in reusable condition went into a “school supplies” pile; assignments they were particularly proud of went into the “Kids’ Special Schoolwork” box; papers they didn’t care about went into the recycling bin. Then Tim and I together mounted the bike rack onto the back of the car, which is a quintessential rite of summer for me; I truly believe vacation has arrived and brought with it the possibility of fun once we put the bike rack on the car, and I’m amazed we’ve reached the point (Tim physically, me technically) where we can accomplish this feat with no help from Rick. After that, we all went on a bike ride and then over to visit my parents until it was time to come home and make dinner.

So I needn’t have worried. It’s true we have no big vacation plans this summer: a few camping weekends, we hope; some trips to my parents’ place in Maine; and possibly a few days with our friends in upstate New York in late August. We have lots of ways to keep busy around home, though, with Tim’s baseball games, tickets for several Lowell Spinners games (our favorite minor league team), bike rides, ice cream excursions, swimming plans, get-togethers with friends. My initial anxiety is past, and there’s every indication we have a great ten weeks ahead.

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