The pools are open, the temperatures have reached 90 degrees and my porch flowers are already half-dead from lack of watering.
Evidently, summer is here!
Even before piecing together those telltale clues, I could have told you the season it was based solely on the questions and complaints repeated in my house:
- I’m bored.
- I’m hungry.
- Can I have a snack?
- Can I watch TV?
- What are we doing today?
- That’s boring!
- What day is today?
- What time is it?
- What time is it now?
- Can I have a snack? Can I have a snack? Can I have a snack?
This, all before 11 a.m.
School's out for the next 10 weeks or so, and it is the best of times and the worst of times. My husband and I relax the rules just a bit, making our lives just a tad easier. Firm bedtimes become stretchier, eliminating the nightly homework-dinner-bath-bed mad rush. Athletic shorts and wrinkled tees are the uniform du jour. Pool head? High fashion!
But as with just about anything parenting-related, the kids giveth and then they taketh away.
While we enjoy the extra hour of child-free time in the mornings (snaps for children who sleep in!) we do not enjoy the hours upon hours of unstructured time that needs to be filled by us, the same working parents who do not, incidentally, have a summer break.
In fact, it's possible that we end up working more, as a consequence of having to make up time lost picking children up from summer camps that end at 3 p.m. (or earlier!), picking up children who vomited in the pool, and paying for vats of sunscreen, bigger swimsuits, summer trips, popsicles, lost reusable water bottles, still more summer camps, and an endless supply of snacks.
Summer makes me feel like we're living a modern-day version of panem et circenses, Latin for "bread and circuses," the ancient Roman strategy for appeasing a restless populace with cheap food and entertainment. Only instead of gladiator games and palliative panem, we are placating our children with Netflix movie marathons and a stream of fruit snacks, yogurt squeezies, cheese sticks and bags of Pirate's Booty.
ARE THEY NOT ENTERTAINED?!
Of course not. But there is an upside.
It turns out that idle time is actually a good thing for kids. It forces them to quiet themselves, be reflective and learn to process their emotions. I'll bet you know many adults who aren't adept at that skill. (I know I do.)
Not unimportantly, unraveling the schedule simply gives them time to play – creatively, wildly and sometimes too loudly, but freely.
A friend told me a heartbreaking story recently about sitting on a train adjacent to a school-age boy, maybe age 6 or 7, who was sobbing to his mother from New York nearly to Delaware. Like so many parents who want our kids enriched and prepared for the adult world, she had him enrolled in activities and lessons to the point of exhaustion. "I don't have any free time," he wept. "I don't have any time to play!"
It is aggravating, for sure, to have children complain about being bored/hungry/bored again. And the long, leisurely days of summer (even if the kids are hopscotching across Baltimore for a hodge-podge of camps, like my three are) heighten the aggravation factor even more. As a parent, it is tempting to try to avoid the torture of whining children by doubling down on the entertainment. Add more outings! Schedule some more playdates! Bread! Circuses!
But the truth is, if we would force ourselves to force them to be OK with a little boredom, they'd figure it out for themselves – whatever that "it" is for them.
If we want our children to be able to entertain themselves, the only thing we need to do is give them the time to do it. Summer break is the perfect season to start.
Tanika Davis is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who works as vice president at a communications firm. She and her husband have twin 7-year-old sons, a 5-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears monthly.