Summertime, Bummer-time

Facebook is flooded with photos of prom couples, college graduates and end-of-school-year celebrations. And that can mean only one thing: kids shall soon chant, “School’s out for summer!” For many of us older types, while summer vacation means increased family time, more sunshine and, hopefully, less stress, it does put pressure on the household “help.” Here’s how those employees are affected:

The Short-Order Cook: It seems that during summer, one meal bleeds into the next. Kids wake up at different times, so breakfast can stretch from 6:30-11:30 am. Lunch may follow an hour later, afternoon-snack requests fill much of the day and dinner comes all too soon, especially for kids rushing off to sports practices, swim meets and social events.
The Solution: Create a sign indicating the chef’s hours. Kids who wake up too late can pour themselves cereal. Those who miss dinner can enjoy cereal again. Those who want the chef’s daily specials will soon adjust.

The Scullery Maid: An obvious end-product of extra mouths and additional meals is dirty dishes. Countertops brim with dirty plates, glasses and silverware – and that’s if you’re lucky enough to have kids who “bus” their own tables.
The Solutions: For starters, buy a bunch of colored plastic cups or water bottles, and assign one color to each family member. Ask them to reuse those vessels throughout the day. As for the dishwashing situation, take a page from my wise friend Jennifer McClellan’s book. She recently noted on Facebook: I ran a little experiment yesterday. I left the dishwasher open and the racks pulled out. Obvious, right? Dishes were still put in the sink. Dear children, please note that the magic sink fairy has never, not once, found our home. Jen, keep trying; you rock!

The Housemaid (home-based men–no sexism intended here): With bodies underfoot all day, the house soon becomes cluttered with shirts, shoes, boxers, bikinis, towels, flip flops, magazines and dishes, which are strewn about haphazardly. The task of keeping the place picked up is nothing short of back-breaking.
The Solution: Confiscate items left in “public” places, and let the kids buy them back at thrift-store prices. As for bedrooms, close doors. You may also tie room-cleanliness to specific privileges, such as cell phones, TV time or car usage, depending on how much you care about what’s behind those doors. In our home, the threat that a pile of clothes makes a great home for spiders works well enough.

The Laundress: The volume of dirty clothes seems to triple for every family member (quadruple for those who usually wear school uniforms) during summer months. Count on several outfit changes per day, as well as loads of soggy beach towels. For many, throwing clothes into the laundry hamper is a valid response to “please fold and put away clothes you have barely worn” (see “The Housemaid”).
The Solution: Summer is the perfect time to teach kids how to wash, dry and fold their own clothes.

The Referee: With more bodies under foot for more hours of the day, conflict is inevitable. Fights over toys, X-box time, TV selections, teenage hours (complaining about noise in the early am; creating too much noise late at night) and car privileges keep the family referee blowing his or her whistle nonstop.
The Solution: One very wise friend wuold break up every tussle and argument by sending all who were involved into time out together, to work through the problems on their own. Wish I had thought of that.

The Lifeguard: Okay, sitting pool- or lake-side while kids cavort in the water and sand seems like a dream job, doesn’t it? No sympathy needed…unless you live in Seattle (as I do), where “summer” doesn’t officially start until July 5. In other words, the first few weeks of summer vacation are typically cloudy, rainy and cold. The kids don’t seem to care, and require the lifeguard’s attention anyway.
The Solution: Here in Seattle, it’s called Polar Fleece.

The Social Chairman: Those with young chlldren know that summer days require an endless stream of phone calls and emails to set up playdates and carpools, and the task of supervising young people’s activities is exhausting.
The Solution: Remember the good old days when you went outside as soon as the sun warmed the sidewalk, walked or rode your bike to the neighborhood park or pool, and played with whomever showed up? When you stayed outside until your mom called you in for dinner? Okay, I recognize that’s nostalgia, not a solution.

The Chauffeur: Of course, the Social Chairman’s job requires chauffeur services, as well. Kids need rides to wim lessons, sports-team practices, playdates and camps.
The Solution: If you live in a safe community, let capable kids walk, ride bikes and take city busses whenever possible. If not, make friends that can help with carpools. And don’t forget to enjoy the ride. Car time is conducive to great conversations and life lessons, and before you know it, they’ll be driving on their own.

The Sports Team Manager: Kids who play team sports can have wicked summer schedules, with practices, games and out-of-town tournaments. For the four years our oldest played select baseball, our summers revolved around his schedule. All four kids competed on a summer swim and dive team, and that kept us all busy for most of the summer, too.
The Solution: Use carpools, give yourself permission to miss practices and even a game or two. But most of all, enjoy the time together. Some of our family’s best summer memories came from our baseball weekends.

The Watchdog: For parents of teens, and especially those who are home “visiting” from college, this is the most stressful summer job. Kids typically stay out later more days of the week when they have endless amounts of unstructured time. Often, but not always, bad choices ensue. And no matter how kids spend their time, most parents don’t rest easily until the kids are home safe.
The Solution: Set reasonable curfews, perfect the art of napping and pray.

The Born-Again Parent: This may be the toughest summer job of all. On the one hand, you’re thrilled that your child survived a year away from the nest. You missed him or her enormously. You spent hundreds of dollars on care packages and Starbucks or Subway gift cards.  You worried incessantly and breathed more easily after every text or phone call.  And then suddenly, they’re back. You can no longer keep the fridge, and especially the milk, sufficiently stocked. You struggle with all of the forementioned jobs. Your family’s gas consumption increases and your sleep quality decreases. And you really can’t blame college kids. They have grown accustomed to all-you-can-eat, take-what-you-want cafeterias that include  dishwashing services, dorm-cleanliness standards (or lack thereof), loud music, unchaperoned parties and curfew-free weekends. They have grown unaccustomed to parental voices and wisdom.

The Solution: Set reasonable rules, restrictions and curfews before major problems ensue.  Most of all, enjoy having your babies in your midst again. The clock is winding down. – Linda WIlliams Rorem, 19 May 2014 20140519-104533.jpg Photo courtesy of Lisa Nordale, whose college-age son just returned home

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