Summertime is glorious. Sand and surf. Watermelon and popsicles. Peaches and tomatoes. Fishin’ and swimmin’. Homemade ice cream. Weekends spent at the pool, on the beach or sittin’ on the dock of Mobile Bay. It is definitely one of my favorite times of year — at least on the weekends. But it is also one of the times I feel the guiltiest as a working mother.
My poor kids have put in 40-hour weeks at day care, school and after care since they were six weeks old. During the school year, I don’t feel too bad about this. After all, they are only spending three more hours at school than the “carpool kids” and they do their homework and then run around and play with their friends. I feel certain they have more fun there than they would at home.
But summer is a different story. While other kids are spending their summers going to the pool every day, riding their bikes or playing in the backyard, my kids are being shuffled to various day camps. Even though the camps are fun for them (probably more fun than home), I still feel like I am robbing them of an important part of their childhood — long, lazy, carefree summer days. The only 10 weeks out of the year where you don’t have to get up, get dressed and be somewhere everyday. You just don’t get that when you grow up.
Every year I consider hiring a sitter to take them to do all of the things I wish I could be taking them to do, but I always come to the conclusion that the math just doesn’t make sense. If there is one area where wages have not stagnated, it is babysitting.
I think I may have gotten a hundred bucks a week for keeping kids during the summer; now most kids want $10 an hour. With day camps ranging from $150 to $200 a week, it just doesn’t make sense to pay a sitter $400. So my husband and I end up hauling them all over town with backpacks containing a long list of things they will need. I usually forget at least one thing on the list. And the kids always remind me of how put out they were because of my mistake.
“Mom, you forgot to pack my towel.” “Mommy, you forgot to pack my water.”
“Yeah, yeah I know. I was too busy focusing on getting two snacks, lunch, a change of clothes, water shoes, sunscreen and your iPad and charger together. Sorry!”
Last week when my son was at tennis camp I packed his lunch, but forgot to put it in his bag. I realized this about 1 p.m. and called my husband, who ran a bunch of gas station junk food up to him to hold him over. When he got there to find our hot, sweaty kid on the court, Frank asked him if he had had anything to eat, he just said, “No, sir. I just wasn’t going to eat.”
I felt horrible, but little did I know the following day I would feel even worse. So much worse, in fact, I would end up flat-out lying and resorting to bribery.
Last week my daughter’s day camp spent the mornings going to Vacation Bible School. On the last day of VBS, they had a program at 11:30 a.m. to sing all the songs they had learned for parents. The camp kids would then go back to their regularly scheduled programming and the VBS-only kids would go home with their parents. I knew this was going to be tricky. Just about every time we have gone to any program for Ellen at school and had to leave to go back to work, she cries to go with us. But she also gets really disappointed if we aren’t there. So it was a tough call.
I was busy, and I wasn’t going to go. But still wallowing in the guilt of no-lunch-gate, I decided to head to the school at 11:20, knowing I was going to be late. When I got there, I saw another mom I know who told me, “She’s been looking for you.” When I found her, she was sitting with a teacher, who said, “See, she is here.” She had obviously been crying and then when she saw me she started crying again.
After a few hugs, she reluctantly went back to singing her songs with the rest of the kids.
When the program ended all of the kids ran over to their moms. The vast majority of the moms were wearing athletic gear so I knew most of the kids were going to get to go home. I was not going to escape this place without incident.
I tried to make my goodbyes to Ellen quickly and slip out, but the tears started rolling down her face immediately.
“Please, please let me go with you. All of the other kids are getting to go home, why can’t I?”
She was crying so hard she was starting to hyperventilate. Nothing breaks my heart more than teary hyperventilation.
“Because mommy has to go back to work.”
“But I don’t want you to.”
“I know, but I have to.”
“Please take me with you.” (Grabs leg and continues sobbing.)
I looked across the room at another mom who was dressed in work clothes. She was having the exact same tearful conversation with her little girl. We exchanged a sympathetic glance. Never have I ever wanted to be wearing athletic gear so badly.
I almost gave in to my bawling baby. I was thinking maybe I could take her to work and she could play on her LeapPad. Maybe she’ll be quiet this time.
Then I came back down to reality. No, no she won’t. Last time she was at my office she threw markers all over the floor and walked around in a Mr. Burns mask we had laying around. (Don’t all offices have those?) She would definitely disturb the entire staff.
So, knowing that wasn’t an option, I started bargaining with her.
“If you will go back to camp, I will pick you up early. I promise.”
“Noooooo,” the crying continued. “Please, Mommy.”
“Ellen, if you come back to the office with me, it will be so boring. You will have nothing to do. You will have way more fun here with your friends. “
“I don’t have any friends here. I don’t like any of them,” she lied.
“Yes, you do. Look, I just need to go back to the office for like 30 more minutes and then I’ll come right back to get you,” I lied right back to her. She can’t tell time.
She paused. I could tell she was thinking about it. I thought she was just about to relent until she said, “No, mommy, I really want to go with you.”
It was time to play hardball.
“Ellen, sweetie, if you stay here, I will come right back to pick you up in just a little bit AND I’ll take you to buy a toy.”
This is probably advised against in every parenting book on the planet. But hey, sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do,
She hesitated again and then said, “OK, Mommy.” The tears dried up immediately and she happily went right on back to day camp and started playing with the little people who were not her friends and who she didn’t like five minutes earlier.
Wait a minute. Who just played who here?
I came back in “just a little bit” (4 hours and 30 minutes later), and we headed to the toy store.
Guilt is expensive. But all was right with the world again, so totally worth it.