Thursday, May 13, 2010

On Summer Vacation (Or, The Babysitter Jackpot)

School’s Out for Summer! This mantra became commonplace in the 1970s when rocker Alice Cooper turned it into an anthem. When I was a kid, summer vacation was the coveted fun time of year. As an adolescent, it was the epoch of love or, at the very least, serious crushes. As a parent, however, I hate summer!

As I work hard during the school year to keep the routine and ensure financial security for my family, summer turns out to be the biggest slap in the face. No matter how well I plan ahead, summertime becomes a financial black hole where money is poured in and then sucked out faster than paychecks can be deposited into accounts. Let me explain.

School ends, and the working mother says to herself, Well, at least there’s summer camp. But there isn’t. Most summer camps do not start until a full week after public school has let out. Some wait two weeks. I guess they assume families want time to travel, which would be a beautiful and considerate notion if all of America could afford such a luxury. And let’s not forget that the average price of a summer day camp is $1000 for a four-week session, costing around $2000 per child for the full summer. Then we’re also supposed to pay for a family vacation? I don’t think so.

Anyway, after at least a week of paying babysitters out the wazoo, summer camp commences. Except that it’s so strenuous on the kids, between the heat, the onslaught of junk food, and the sudden physical activity of which they were deprived during the school year, that the children will get sick at least once during the summer camp session. More money lost to babysitters or time away from work.

When the family has finally survived summer camp, the still-working mother says to herself, Well, at least the new school year is starting. But it isn’t. Most summer camps finish two weeks before public schools resume. More time for travel, I suppose. And certainly more money to be made in the babysitting industry.

While I’m on my soap box about family travel and the elitist suppositions of many, I want to mention that a few unnamed private schools in South Florida have a full extra week of vacation during the school year. This occurs around Presidents’ Day weekend, after the recent winter break and Martin Luther King, Jr. four-day weekend and just before the week-long spring break. This February break is called Ski Week. Need I say more?

What I’m trying to say here is that summer vacation is not, for most working mothers, what is was for us as kids. And that saddens me. I don’t like feeling so bogged down by the end of the school year. And I don’t like feeling stressed during a season that is supposed to be filled with the kind of times that memories are made of. (Did I mention that I live in South Florida, where hurricane season only adds to this beautiful array of woes?)

So what’s a working girl to do? I know… stop complaining and start appreciating this brief time in my children’s lives when summer vacation is their respite from the drudgery of schoolwork and the rigidity of routine. I know that the day will come, sooner than I think, when summers will be all mine again, when I won’t have to spend the academic year pinching pennies to save up for summer camp, and when I will listen to my grown kids gripe about their own summertime family expenses.

That’s when I will suddenly sit up from my beach lounger, realizing the financial relief I have to offer, and ask, Do you need a babysitter?


  1. It's not camp and babysitters that drain our wallets. It's weekend trips and 'fun' stuff to keep the little ones entertained.

    My oldest is 14 (almost 15) so we dismissed the daycare and babysitters last summer. (I probably shouldn't boast too loudly, y'all might throw things at me!) My husband works nights, so he's home at lunch time, so she's only watching them for a couple hours.

  2. You've put a new 21st century spin on those "hazy, lazy days of summer." My children are in college, and now I don't know where all those early summers went ... time flies!

  3. The summer after my son's first year of chool was a real challenge--my gosh, keeping little ones busy is a lot of work! Thank goodness for summer activities ... Those strange gaps between school and activities is particularly painful. I remember August being particularly stressful.

  4. You show a lot of wise insight here, Wendy. And you're right - eventually, we'll be offering OUR services, even though right now we long for someone ELSE's.

  5. Grandparent babysitters sound divine at about this moment, don't they? For me too! I'll be sure to take your advice and be available when I am one.

    I feel your pain, friend. We pinch pennies around here too, but I quit teaching college so that I was home more with them, which is both a blessing and a curse financially and mentally. So hard to decide what the answer is sometimes! (For me it was to quit paying the sitters and stay home for awhile. For you, I'm sure the answer is something entirely different but equally right.) Good luck!

  6. Do what I did with your brother and you in the summertime; hire a mother's helper. Great for your budget because they only charge 50 cents an houre...right? (My long term recall is excellant!)