School is back in session, and not a moment too soon.
As a child, I loved summer, of course. Didn’t we all? It meant schedule-free days of devouring books, roaming around town with friends, tormenting my little sister and maybe even seeing my out-of-state cousins for a few days.
Then I became a parent — the parent of a child with weak social skills, no siblings, no cousins within two decades of his age or 1,600 miles of our house, and a hatred of reading. So every year when springtime rolls around, I fret by day and toss and turn by night, worrying about what a 10-week break from school will mean for his emotional development, his social life and his entire academic future. Then, like a good Johnson County mother, I empty my bank account into various summer programs.
By the time my son was 5, I had spent more money on his summer activities than my parents spent on my summer activities over an entire 18 years. Thousands more.
I tell myself it’s worth it. Then I tell myself again, to be sure I heard right. Because while part of me thinks the current child-rearing generation is the most awesome generation of parents ever, a bigger part of me thinks we have lost our collective minds.
Did our parents lose sleep the summer after our second-grade year worrying about our college prospects? For that matter, did they lose sleep the summer after our junior year of high school worrying about it? I recall that year, and I know for a fact that figuring out the whole college thing was considered my problem, not my parents’ problem.
Yet here I am, in August 2012, already worrying about next summer, and by extension, my son’s prospects for August 2022. That’s how a modern-day middle-class parent’s mind works. I cannot allow my technology-addicted, outdoors-averse son to spend three months hanging around the house while he gains weight, drains the iPad battery twice a day and pesters me for something to do while I’m trying to meet deadlines. He’s aging out of the camp we’ve been using, and it’s a mere half-day anyway. So I’ve already begun the search for an all-summer day camp that emphasizes outdoor activities, doesn’t involve religion and happily welcomes kids who don’t play sports. And by “welcome,” I do not mean, “Sure, he’s welcome to sit and watch.”
As problems go, this is a minor one, I’ll admit. Millions of parents the world over — and more than we might like to think right here in Joco — are far more worried about feeding their kids tomorrow than about entertaining them 10 months from now. My son and I might both learn a lesson or two if I searched for summer volunteer opportunities as diligently as I’m searching for summer camp opportunities. I don’t know whether any all-day, summer-long community service camps for 10-year-olds exist in this area, but if they don’t, they should.
Because you’re never too young to start putting things into perspective.
Sarah Smith Nessel, a 913 freelance columnist, writes The Bubble each week.