With my daughters’ Spring Break just next week, I’ve started thinking about our summer plans. My gosh, it is coming quick—just two more months and they’re done!
Before I got sick with cancer and went on medical leave, I worked full time for Corporate America. This meant that their summer vacation wasn’t mine, so I had to hurry up and sign up my children for all-day camps before the best ones filled up. The cost was staggering but you know what?
Though they couldn’t sleep in (my then-hubby and I had to get to the office early), they got to pick camps based on their interests. One week, it was swim camp, another was skateboarding, then ice skating or crafts… Their favorite (and was the priciest) was a week spent at different theme parks in Southern California: Knott’s Berry Farm, Belmont Park, Sea World, Legoland, and a big waterpark.
Post cancer diagnosis, our lives became very different. For starters, I no longer work a 9-5 job at the office. This gives me loads of flexibility and I can take my laptop on the road and do anything from any location. The first summer, I was left scratching my head on how we would spend our time together. It was awesome as, for the first time in my adult life, I could play with my children.
I filled it by taking trips (one was a 17-day trek on Amtrak across the USA with stops in Chicago, Washington DC and New York City; another was several weeks in Los Angeles hanging out with friends who were teachers and had the summer off of work, too), going to the local rec center and hanging out at the pool (them swimming, me reading magazines under a huge tree), and taking day excursions to local museums and venues like the zoo. On the days that I had nothing planned, it drove me bat-crazy to see my children sleep all day and watch TV. I literally couldn’t handle it so I’d drag them back out to a movie, or shopping, or just a drive up the canyon.
So what to do this summer? I started making phone calls to local places that are likely running day camps—a climbing facility, a local kids’ museum, recreation centers, cheer clubs… I am not joking—every single one of these places has camps, but they run for about two hours. That’s it. I am not happy. “That’s not a camp, that’s a class,” I’ve said to many of the employees. “Where are your all day camps?” I get these blank stares and usually a nervous giggle. “You’re in Utah!” one woman said with a glare.
What the hell is that supposed to mean? Parents in Utah don’t have jobs? I have literally never seen more little children in my entire life. What the heck are these parents doing with them all summer? I went on a quest to find out.
The first woman I asked was my friend “Carrie.” I use the term “friend” loosely because, honestly, while I like her, she’s probably one of the most pious women I’ve ever met. Add to that, she has an air or moral superiority about her. SHE has all the answers and everyone else has either chosen to go against the church or they just haven’t been blessed enough to become a member of her church. Carrie has six children that range from ages 3 to 16.
“What are you doing with your children this summer?” I asked.
She looked at me oddly. “Nothing.”
“But how do you keep them entertained?” I asked.
Another funny look. “They entertain themselves. That’s why it is good to have a stay at home mom. I’m there for them.” Smug look on her face. “I’m not like some people I know who can afford to take them on trips and spend a ton of money. We keep it simple.”
Since I’m the only one I know in our very conservative Mormon neighborhood who travels extensively with her kids, I think she was talking about me.
“Well, if you got a fucking job, you could take your kids somewhere, too!” I wanted to say. I didn’t. I bit my tongue instead.
A million thoughts ran through my head (in addition to the almost-said comment above). Like the fact that her three-year old daughter was usually playing in the street without a single parent watching her. Or the time I found her five year old son playing with a carving knife in their driveway. A real carving knife. When I knocked on Carrie’s door and handed her the knife and explained to her where I got it, she giggled and said, “I’m such a bad mom.” Ok, not funny, I wanted to scream. And wasn’t she the mom whose daughter when she was not even two years old was playing behind a car and was run over? She survived it but that could easily have gone a different way.
Ok, Mom Of The Year, I wanted to say, how are your children benefitting by you being home for them? As far as I can tell, they are not even physically safe.
“So, Carrie, I have to be honest—even if I was a stay at home mom, my children would still be at day camps all day long,” I finally said.
“Because what am I supposed to do with them all day long?” I asked.
“You let them play!” she said. “Children want to be with their moms.”
“Not mine!” I said. “Trust me, if I announced to my children that this summer they get to be with me every single day, they’d protest. They’d be bored, and I’d be frustrated. So after we get back from our many trips, I am going to find them camps if it’s the last thing I do.”
This is true. While if I hit the lottery, I’d never work a day again in my life, my children in their younger years would still have been in all day pre-school and camps, after school programs—anything to keep them safe, mentally and physically engaged, and developing social skills by playing with their peers. I can’t imagine how quickly my children would be bored by following me around doing errands, putting laundry away, and going grocery shopping all day long.
“If you’re not going to raise your own children, then you shouldn’t have them,” Carrie said.
Did she really say that?
“This is where we disagree. If you’re going to stay home with your kids, I think you should be keeping them mighty busy and making sure that, at a minimum, they’re physically safe. If you can’t do that, then they shouldn’t be hanging out at home,” I said. “Because I see loads of kids in this neighborhood who are in the streets without a parent in site. I don’t see how they’re benefitting from that at all. In fact, I think it’s dangerous.”
That night, I asked my kids if, when they were younger, they would rather have been with me every day or at pre-school, without hesitation, they both said “pre-school!” My oldest then had to clarify: “Not that we don’t love spending time with you, Mom. Please don’t take it personally.” Not to worry there!
So without stepping into the Mommy Wars, if your kids are in pre-school, daycare, camps, after school care, or something similar, don’t feel guilty. You may not like it but the odds are, your kids are fine and happy (and safe).