For me, it usually starts around the time the ground begins to thaw and the first buds appear on the trees in my backyard. I get the seasonal park district catalog, advertising pool passes and outdoor sports camps. One friend might mention the possibility of planning a trip with our families, while another reminds me that we need to coordinate camp schedules for our kids. It's official: Summer is coming. And unlike the days of my youth, when its arrival was an event second only to Christmas in terms of my excitement level, these days the season brings with it another distinct emotion: panic.
Judging from the anxiety-ridden conversations I've had with pretty much every single one of my friends who have children of preschool and grade-school age, Summer panic is a pretty common Mom emotion. We all get so used to the glorious structure and child-free time that school provides us during the rest of the year that the thought of three months of restless children looking at us, and us alone, to fill all those endless open hours is, in a word, terrifying.
Of course, we all want to embrace Summer for its idyllic possibilities — playing at the pool on long, sunny days, catching fireflies after chasing down an ice cream truck, planning impromptu backyard barbecues that go late into golden evenings without the pressure of the morning school bell pushing us to get our kids into the bath and their beds. We want those unplanned moments of Summer bliss for our children and ourselves.
But every mom knows that for every one of those joyous times, there are at least a dozen complaints of boredom we're expected to solve, endless sibling battles we're expected to referee, and way too many nights we go to sleep wishing the school bus was coming in the morning. The reality is, Summer is hard for moms with little kids. What used to feel like a break from the tough stuff now feels like exactly the opposite.
If you're like me, you react to Summer panic by overscheduling your family during the months of June, July, and August. Since late February, I've been signing up my older kid for as many day camps as I can find, planning as many vacations as our budget will allow, and finding ways to fill the rest of our time by buying a Summer pool pass and figuring out how much kid time grandma and grandpa can take. Hell, I even purchased a huge playset for our backyard this week, wanting to make sure it had arrived and was installed before my kids' last day of school.
And then I feel guilty. Because isn't Summer all about being unscheduled and free? Shouldn't my kids have that experience, as I did when I was a child, of playing outside all day and coming in smelling like sweat and freshly mowed grass? Shouldn't I just embrace the season and plan to spend our days making dandelion crowns, searching for four-leaf clovers, and eating dozens of Popsicles in our backyard? Does the fact that sounds so freaking miserable to me make me a bad mom?
Maybe someday, when my children are old enough that I can kick them out of the house and instruct them to "go play" without worrying about them getting hit by a car or lost, when we can go to the pool without swim diapers, water wings, and the fear of drowning, Summer will go back to being a breezy joy for me. But until then, if you know of any all-day Summer camps that take 3-year-olds, please let me know.