Over the last few days, a change has begun around Chez Anselmo. It started on Wednesday, and won’t be finished for a week or two yet, but it is definitely happening. And all of you with kids over the age of five know what I’m talking about.
That’s right — sing it with me if you know the old Alice Cooper tune … “SCHOOOOOOOL’S OUT … FOR SUMMERRRRRRRR!”
Now, I know that the calendar says the first day of summer is June 21, due to the summer solstice, bah-de-blah-de-blah. Any parent knows better. Summer begins on the last day of school (or Memorial Day, whichever comes last). It used to end with the first day of the next school year, but since so many school districts are twanking around with the schedule and starting the new year in the middle of July or some awful idea like that, that’s gone out the window. Thankfully, my daughter is in a charter school with a more traditional setup.
Well, said daughter just finished second grade (with Straight A’s and Highest Honors, brag brag brag) last week. My wife, a Special Ed. teacher at the same school, would have been finished on Friday, but still has a few loose ends to tie up. (Turns out that in a student body of 120 or so, in addition to the five students she was already working with, there were TEN more in need of Special Ed. assistance that no one had told her or the school about. She only found out because she made a point last week of going through the files of every student returning in the fall to double-check. Now she has to contact all of those ten’s former schools to get the proper paperwork sent over. Fuuuuuun …) But she should be done by month’s end.
So the way we’ve done a lot of things over the last nine months isn’t going to work anymore. We didn’t really realize this last summer, and predictably, chaos ensued. This time, we’ve taken a few steps to keep the peace — at least until school starts again in late August. And being the generous guy I am (stop laughing!), I thought I’d pass a few of them on …
* Stock up in advance. For instance, last Friday I took the kids to the farmer’s market and Best Buy. What do those two have to do with each other? Well, at the farmer’s market we picked up several pounds of fresh fruit — peaches, nectarines, apricots, cherries — because the kids are going to be home all day and wanting to snack, and we want them to have something healthy with which to do it. Their metabolisms may be able to process Pringles more efficiently than mine, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t shoot for better options. And at Best Buy, we picked up Wall-E, Matilda and some Caillou and Dora the Explorer compilations, because they’ve seen every kids’ video we have in our collection (which is quite a few) at least a dozen times and needed some variety. (In case some of you wonder why we didn’t get any VeggieTales, that’s easy — we own them all already.)
The whole thrust here is: make sure you have resources adequate for when the kids are around 24/7, instead of off at school for seven hours five days a week (or in the case of our pre-kindergarten son, one day a week).
* Make a schedule — and use it. Kids like stability. They like to know that the universe is a relatively dependable, predictable place, that things work the way they’re supposed to. That maxim has so many applications that it deserves its own book (there are probably several written already), but the way we’re using it in this case is by creating an activity schedule for the kids for Monday through Friday, and keeping them on it unless there’s a real need to do otherwise. That way, there’s no question of “what are we doing next?” and cries of “I’m boooooored” will hopefully be reduced dramatically.
And the schedule has everything: meal times, play times, times for trips or errands, outside play, inside play, learning time, baths, you name it. Even TV time is specially earmarked, with specific shows, so they don’t spend the whole day being hypnotized by the idiot box (well, idiot monitor, I suppose — we have a flatscreen). Some wiggle room is built in — all times listed on it are approximations, and there’s a clause about how it can change at Mommy and Daddy’s discretion — but there’s enough structure and variety that the kids can feel comfortable without feeling bored out of their skulls.
* Learning doesn’t stop when school ends. Noticed that I mentioned “learning time” up there? Part of the schedule is a “school time” from 1 to 3 p.m., during the hot part of the day so that they’re inclined to be inside anyway. I’m letting my wife co-ordinate this, as she’s more than qualified for the job. (Frankly, we’ve always dreamed of home-schooling, but we’ve never had the income to allow us to pursue it. Having a wife home full-time requires a husband bringing in enough $$$ to support the family by himself. Which has never happened for us, alas.) Our daughter will be working on reading, math and science during that time, while our son will be mastering his letters and numbers and picking out words and shapes.
In addition, throughout the day the kids will be practicing weak areas in preparation for the fall. For my daughter, it will be penmanship — her writing isn’t bad for a second-grader, but it’s the shakiest area she’s got, so we might as well see if she can bring it up to the same level as everything else. (Besides, she wants to start learning cursive.) For my son, potty-training practice (which we’ve been dealing with gently for months) gets ramped up a notch, because he’s going into kindergarten and they’ll expect him to be out of training pants. We have high hopes.
* Take time for the things you can’t do from September to June. That means longer trips, mostly — the wife and kids are planning to visit her parents this Wednesday, and a friend in the San Francisco Bay area sometime next month. Plus, my daughter’s birthday, July 6, lands on a Monday this year, and we have tickets to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Were she born during the school year, we’d be forced to shoot for a weekend — and with her birthday being so close to the 4th of July, that multiplies the headaches. Now, we can just go on a Monday if it’s open. I’d better check …
* Reorganize our own time — separately. With me unemployed and my wife out of school, we know the capacity for us to get on each other’s nerves by the time Labor Day rolls around. You know the old zinger about the wife saying to her retired husband, “I married you for better or for worse, but not for lunch”? Right. So we’re planning to spend enough of the day doing our own things that we aren’t stepping on each other’s feet all the time. We’ll have different times taking care of the kids. I’ll be in the office (with the door locked) more, writing — this blog, short stories, fanfic, maybe work on another novel. She’ll pick up responsibility for dinner and laundry, both of which I handled while she was working (I’ll still do the dishes). We’ll interact maybe a bit more that usual, but not that much more. And we’ll avoid the trap of too much togetherness.
So we’re cautiously optimistic that we’ll have a pleasant summer. There will undoubtedly be a few stumbles along the way. A few tweaks will have to be made to our plans. But we’re ready, and we’re willing, to make this the best summer vacation we’ve ever had as a family.
Well, it’s almost time for me to walk the kids to the park. See you later!