Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Summer Vacation Blues: The Kids Have More Time Off Than I Do

I have to work this week.

So the kids are attending mini-camp every day at their preschool, a sort of stop-gap measure the school offers between the end of school and the start of summer camp. But when I dropped them off the first day, I noticed there were maybe ten kids attending mini-camp, and it's been pretty much that size, give or take a few kids, since then.

I'm wondering where everyone else is. Did everyone else take vacation? Or is it that so many moms (or dads) aren't working, or aren't working full-time, and are just hanging with their kids at home? Because me, I'd be scrambling without mini-camp.
 As it was, after school closed last Wednesday at noon, I had to line up babysitting for two and a half days, just to get to this week.

I know some people must've gone out of town, and believe me, if I coulda, I woulda. But here's the rub: there are two weeks from when camp ends to when school starts up in the fall. And there were two weeks earlier this year for spring break. Plus there were those various and sundry days when the school was closed for teacher training, or one of the Jewish holidays I don't observe. If I total all the days the school was closed since January, and will be closed until school starts up in September, leaving out camp and mini-camp, it's nearly five weeks. And if you add in all the days it'll be closed this fall, leaving out legal holidays like Thanksgiving and such, well, it's pretty much close to seven weeks.

But I'm a working parent entitled to a mere ten paid vacation days and two personal days a year. That means I've gotta find places to park my kids all those days -- and pay for it. Sure I'll manage a week's vacation with them before school resumes in the fall. But it doesn't feel like much.

I hate how this makes me feel. I want to be off more time when my kids are off, and can't be. I have to pay to get them attended to the many days I can't be around to do it. And I feel guilty -- way guilty -- when they walk into mini-camp and there are so few kids around.

On the other hand, when I pick them up from mini-camp, they seem happy. Why not? With less than a dozen kids around, they've got the run of the play yard, and just enough playmates to keep them occupied. They get plenty of attention from their favorite teachers. And they show no signs of feeling upset that they're not with me or at home.

Still, I am sad.

I recall long summer days spent at a no-frills vacation beach cabin on Fire Island, biking, swimming, playing on the beach, with mom around all day, hanging with the other moms, and dad commuting out from the city on the weekends to join us, or staying longer for vacation. I marvel now that my parents could afford this luxury on one salary, or one plus my mom's part-time elementary school substitute teaching when she went back to work.

As a Late Blooming Mom, I find it especially frustrating that I, who waited so long to have kids, am still not in a position to be with them more. They go to school for many more hours than I did at their age, putting in a full day while I'm working. This is what they know, and what feels normal to them. But because I had a different childhood, I feel as if I'm depriving them of something.

The other side of this coin is that my mom felt unfulfilled professionally, and had jobs, but never really a career. She was overly attached in some ways, or overly involved, in her children's lives, living too much through my brother and I, and then was pretty devastated when her nest emptied. She eventually found her footing, going into business with my dad, who was then a consultant. But she gave up something all those years she was around for her kids. I don't think she ever articulated that, nor did she ever really know for sure what career she would have pursued if given the option. Yet there was something she missed out on.

I wish mom could've had a more fulfilling professional life. But I'm also grateful for that childhood time, especially those early summers when I wasn't at school or camp, but just spent the days playing. Of course it was a different world: she could let me and my friends roam from house to house on Fire Island, go out biking by ourselves, and never worry: there were no cars allowed on the island, the nearest store was the next town over, and it seemed like we knew someone on every block. And mom did sign us up for swimming lessons, or trade kid-watching with other moms. You didn't have to cart your kid from place to place in a car, nor be on top of them all the time to ensure their safety.

Unlike my mom, I can't enjoy a seemingly endless summer vacation with the kids. I need the money for us all to live, and I simply gotta work. I know my kids are going to turn out just fine. But in summertime, especially, I chafe at the limits my worklife places on my homelife ... and wish I could give my kids even a little bit of the summers I had.


William V. Madison said...

Not to get all European about it, but the fact that, at this stage of your life, you get a mere two weeks of vacation is just INSANE.

Yet that makes me all the more admiring of your resourcefulness. I guarantee you, the Things will grow up with some special summer memories that they'll look back on just as fondly as you recall Fire Island.

Late Blooming Mom said...

Bill --
you are right, it is insane. It's part of the union contract that we don't get the third week until year nine. Ludicrous. And then it never increases either. You'd think it'd at least go up to four weeks and level off at that. All hail Europe, as far as I'm concerned. Giving up family time for the "privilege" of working the movies is not a good trade-off.