As Published in The Rye Record on August 22, 2015
Like everyone else on earth, summer meant everything to me when I was a kid. I can still remember the feeling of the last day of school when the nuns made us take our desks outside and wash them. That hint of sunshine and welcome splash of water in my saddle shoes was a preview of things to come. Soon I’d be staring into the wide open space of summer: no have-tos and no ankle sock tan lines.
My mom had a rule about my having to be engaged in one activity every summer. During the summer that I was fourteen, that activity was taking tennis lessons. I know, this may come as a shock to those of you who have seen me play tennis. Is it possible, you wonder, that this person has ever had the benefit of professional instruction? Of course not. By “taking tennis lessons” I mean that my mom dropped me off at the tennis courts on her way to work, and I waited until she’d left the parking lot before hopping the Wilshire Boulevard bus to the beach. Once there, rotating the position of my towel according the movement of the sun was my only real have-to. She never noticed that my tan lines looked more like Baywatch than Wimbledon.
Later, when I got my first full time job, complete with health insurance and the makings of an ulcer, they told me I was entitled to two weeks vacation. Two weeks sounded pretty good for, say, Christmas vacation, but I was alarmed to find out that they meant for the whole year. And then I found out that those two weeks didn’t kick in until after I’d worked a whole year, straight. That was the first year I had no tan lines, and a vitamin D deficiency.
So when I scored the stay at home mom gig, I figured I had it made. I’d be on a kids’ schedule with summers and spring break! All of that childhood freedom would be mine again. Long lazy, sundrenched days, lemonade in a crystal pitcher on a porch. Me, in a white sundress that would somehow stay white after a whole day of frolicking. Being a mom is practically all vacation if you think about it.
I realized my miscalculation right away. But I still try to steal back that summer feeling, that impending freedom. I decide which book I’m going to read first and outline elaborate writing projects. I buy new sunscreen and identify a spot on the beach where my blood pressure will hit dangerously low levels. This dream feels so obtainable, all I have to do to get there is drive my kids around a bit.
That task looks a bit like this: I drop one child at camp at 8, come home to feed another and drive him to camp at 9. I come home in time to eat breakfast myself and consider starting my summertime reverie but realize there’s not enough time before I need to wake and feed the oldest one whose work starts at 11. Ah, 11 o’clock, time to start my day… though the 8 o’clock kid needs to be picked up some days at 12, some days at 2. Throw in a 3pm pick up for the 9 o’clock kid, 5:30 dinner and a basketball game at 6:30…
And I’ve just explained why moms wander around for most of July saying, “I feel like summer hasn’t really started yet.” Or why people keep asking me, “Where have you been?” In my car! You?
I’ve also just explained my peculiar tan lines. I have a driver’s tan, just on my left arm and the left side of my face. It’s half a tan, something out of a Batman movie, which seems about right because moms get half a summer vacation. Half good and half driving.
The hard truth, as I am finally coming to accept it, is that being a mom is really just like any other job. You don’t get three months of vacation. The have-tos remain and sometimes multiply, so the best you can do is just enjoy the hard work that summer eliminates: finding people’s mittens, shoveling the driveway, talking about homework, and avoiding volunteer jobs.
At this stage of life, the only way to create vacation is to actually take it, to pull my children out of their lives and place them somewhere where none of us has any have-tos. I am writing this from my actual, legit summer vacation, which I define as eleven days in a place where I do not have access to a car. And I’m trying to turn the right side of my face to the sun, just to even things out.