Beware: Bad dog days

We've reached that time of year when parents everywhere pause to take stock of how well the children are thriving in the creative, challenging climates carefully constructed for their summer vacations.

Kidding! Here's what parents really are asking themselves: Can we, as a family unit, survive more prickly heat, poison ivy, tedium, laundry, nausea, sunburns, sleeplessness, selfishness, spats, spite, overeating, overworking, over-reacting, underhanded undercutting and underwear underfoot?

Will we make it? Can our pocketbooks and our nervous systems endure the rest of the summer? Will the kids kill each other, or will we have to do that for them, too? And, finally, most importantly: How much longer until school resumes?

This is the hard part, folks. The summer doldrums. That seemingly endless period when parents are reminded just how lucky we are to live in this great country of ours, where the government, dutifully and without complaint, takes our kids out of the house nine months out of the year. Our appreciation of schoolteachers grows immeasurably (how do they do it?) and we count the days until, once again, our biggest worries center around grades and lunch money and after-school activities.

By this point in the long, hot summer, even the kids wish they could go back to school, though they'd never admit it. At school, they could have some fun between classes or on the playground. They could see their friends without worrying that their parents might be somewhere nearby, poised to embarrass them. Even homework would be better than summer ennui.

But no, we still have two weeks to go. Weeks during which the parents will be distracted from their jobs, worrying whether the kids are kept occupied in ways that don't involve felonies. Weeks during which the kids are so overcome by boredom that they can barely drag themselves to the kitchen, where they stare blankly into the open refrigerator for hours at a time. Weeks of excess laundry and innumerable dirty dishes and beach sand ground into car upholstery. Weeks of sibling bickering and tied-up telephones and teen-age eye-rolling.

When I was kid, and we reached the summer doldrums, my parents responded to my every complaint with instructions to go play outside. I try this now, with my two sons, and they look at me like I'm crazy. Outside? It's hot out there. And, besides, there are no computers or telephones or TVs outside. How are kids supposed to entertain themselves?

We parents try to be camp counselors and organize activities for the kids, but it rarely works out. An example: One summer, I spent more than hour sweatily changing out wheels on in-line skates so my sons could go free-wheeling around the neighborhood. They were back in five minutes. All done. Ready to return to the sofa and the TV. I hadn't even finished cleaning the grease off my hands.

If we parents don't provide activities to distract them, if we leave it up to the kids to entertain themselves, they pick unwholesome ways to waste their summer days, such as playing computer games while simultaneously yakking on the phone and hogging the Cheetos.

When they get bored, the kids turn on each other, fighting and snapping and snarling, forcing parents to intervene. I often think I should wear a striped shirt and a whistle.

These everyday frustrations mount (along with the grocery bills and gas money and water-park fees) until we parents think we (and our wallets) can't take it anymore.

But hang in there, parents. Just a few more days. Because the doldrums will pass.

And then it will be time to shop for school clothes.

1 comment:

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