Sunday, June 24, 2012

Seize the Season!

Ah, summer! Lounging on the beach, sipping iced tea, picking tomatoes in the garden. It sounds so relaxing . . . like one very long vacation.

But for parents is it really? Hell, no! I suppose there are some whose schedules are not disrupted much by the change in season. Dad works his regular job, has weekends to himself, and takes a week or two off to go away with his family. Mom also works full-time, but because school is not in session she finds child care to cover the hours her kid or kids would have been in school. If Mom works part-time, she still has hours to fill with outside help. If she is a stay-at-home mom, she will spend a great deal more time in the company of her children or, at least, her school-aged children.

It is a blessing to have your sons and daughters home for the summer. Spending quality time with them is a joy. With its lack of school-year commitments and responsibilities, the season -- more than any other -- offers the possibility for family bonding through shared athletic activities, picnics and barbecues, day trips to cultural sites, and so much more.

Yet along with the opportunity for increased togetherness comes the opportunity for increased friction. Kids fighting, kids bored, kids complaining, parents unable to do their own thing because the kids are always around, poor sleep due to a heat wave, crankiness from a sweltering home. And the list goes on and on.

My situation has always been different from that of most other mothers, including fellow single mothers by choice. When Christopher was very young, I was in grad school. By the time Charlie came along, I had graduated and was expanding my thesis into a book-length memoir. That project plus full-time single motherhood of two young boys while battling chronic fatigue syndrome and having no free help occupied much of my time until last fall when I began teaching memoir-writing workshops. I started this blog on January 1.

I need to make more money -- a GREAT deal more money -- but I also need to keep my expenses down. One way I do that is by spending as little dough as possible on child care. Now that both of my boys are past the preschool years, I no longer have to sell a kidney to pay for work time or break time. When you are the kind of 24/7 single mother I am, you must shell out once in a while to give yourself a breather from caregiving . . . or you will go Andrea Yates out of your mind!

In previous years, I have forked over an arm and a leg -- body parts, again (joke!) -- to provide my sons with a stimulating albeit enjoyable summer. At least one of them has been in a group tennis clinic, a tee ball clinic, an on-camera commercial acting class, a Broadway-style musical theater program at a professional theater, and an enrichment program at a teacher's house. Phew! (Blogger's note: Charlie managed to break all the teacher's crayons and draw in RED on a $300 chair in the space of half of the first morning! Needless to say, the teacher was understandably irate and summarily kicked my then-three year old out of the program with my full support. Done!)

This summer, in the interest of finances and simplifying our lives, I have enrolled the boys in just one activity, yes, ONE -- the day camp at the elementary school known as Summer Playground. Christopher did it the past two summers; Charlie, last year. They both loved it and, therefore, I love it. It meets Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to noon plus Monday through Thursday evenings from 5:30 to 8:30. The hours are longer, and sometimes even last all day, when the camp offers a field trip or other special event. However, those come with an extra fee I am often not willing to pay.

When I need to work (hint: every day), the hours off from Summer Playground in the afternoon create a problem for me. A writer basically never stops working -- for when she isn't writing or editing, she is networking on social media, trying to land side jobs to build her platform, jotting down ideas for future pieces, and performing countless other tasks whose sum total involves a lot of rejection and very little pay. And don't even get me started on the duties required to raise a happy, healthy family and to keep a home in good order. (Well, you already know from past posts that I fail miserably when it comes to the latter.)

Of course, I want to spend time with my children on weekday afternoons, but I am hardly neglecting them time-wise! I am reminded of a woman who provided a listening ear during a tough time in my life and whom, in gratitude, I named a kind of honorary guardian of Christopher. Before moving to the Midwest, she issued her parting words to me: "Don't forget to spend time with your children." LMFAO. Um, HELLO? Did she not realize who she was talking to? My problem is certainly not spending enough time WITH my children; it is not spending enough time WiTHOUT my children.

Anyhoo . . . just as I vowed not to send my boys to the wonderful after-school program this past year in order to save money, I vowed for the same reason this week not to hire babysitters over the summer for the in-between hours of Summer Playground. I must make do with the camp hours only, unless some specific afternoon opportunity presents itself that could further my career or bring some money into the house. Since my boys are now a little older, I can usually get away with doing some work while they are home with me. They are playing in the street or yard or are busying themselves with something in the house. The point: they leave me alone long enough for me to get some work done, though not always all my work and not always certain kinds of work.

Frankly, I was skeptical that I'd be able to get good work done during the day camp's evening hours at a time when I am tired, making dinner for the family, getting people to bed, and trying to relax before hitting the sack myself. Those hours were not ripe for productivity, in my opinion. However, I surprised myself this week when I sat down with my iPad in the late afternoon and handily tackled several tasks I'd put off for quite some time. I COULD shift my hours, and my work wouldn't suffer, I discovered -- at least not yet. Nor did I feel as panicked and discombobulated as I often do in the mornings when I know I only have three hours to work with and way too much to accomplish.

Plus, having the early part of evenings available to me means I have the option to go out, socialize, exercise, see a movie, or do anything else I rarely get to do for myself sans children. Woo-hoo! Finding a separate babysitter and spending extra money on him or her isn't necessary because the Summer Playground counselors are the babysitters, and the pay has been worked into the tuition I already put down. Double woo-hoo!

At $210 per child for the majority of the summer, the day camp is an absolute bargain. That's $420 total for my boys. Yet that's more than what I paid. My charge was actually only $370 because I put a $50 coupon I got for helping to clean up a town park toward the camp tuition. Summer Playground started on June 14, the evening of the last day of school, and it will end August 10.

I remember thinking last year that I would have preferred it to end one week later, which still would have allowed for almost three weeks before school resumed August 31. Speaking with other parents, I learned I was not alone in holding this viewpoint. What's more, almost FOUR weeks remain after the conclusion of the program this summer and the start of the new school year.

But who am I to quibble with such an affordable and fun arrangement?

Another reason why I have not signed the boys up for more activities is that we like to go away camping for days at a time. Since Summer Playground is not expensive, I don't feel guilty if the boys miss a few days here or there if we choose to take a trip during the week rather than on weekends. I welcome the freedom that comes from having a less rigid schedule, and I embrace the chance to live on the fly if we should get motivated to do an overnight on one day's notice.

Furthermore, I didn't want us to be too tied down that we couldn't accept paid extra work that might come our way from a movie filming in the area. Indeed, that is exactly what has happened! Christopher, my eight year old, was passed over for a scene involving redheads in Adam Sandler's Grown Ups 2 -- the sequel to Grown Ups -- but just last week got accepted for something much more impressive: as a member of a boys' hip hop dance group performing before a large audience.

As if that was not exciting enough, the audition was held at a community center boasting a large, outdoor swimming pool. The price for a single-parent family membership is much less than half the price at my old club whose outdoor pool is only half the size! (That's the club I have joined, quit, rejoined, put my membership on hold at, then quit again. There might be one more rejoined/quit cycle in there, I can't remember, but you get the idea.) In my book, there are few things in life that beat a full-sized outdoor lap pool, and I could get access to this one if I am willing to make the drive.

Parents bringing kids to the audition were given a three-day family pass to the community center. My boys went in the pool the first day for a couple of hours, and we have been back every day since! The only catch: the community center is located in another community, and not the ones next door.

Would I/we use the membership enough to pay it off? That's the $100,000 question I need to figure out.

Summer is about creating a balance between work and play, hopefully weighted more heavily towards play. On September 5, right before my boys go back to school, I need to be able to look back and honestly say that I accomplished what I wanted to in these almost three months, and I had a damn good time as well! If I achieve both of these things, then I will have seized the season.

So far, anyway, I am very happy with what the season has presented us . . . and it's only June!

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