My kitchen counters are made of Corian. It is a seamless, speckled, nonporous, stain-resistant product engineered by DuPont™ for convenience-minded homeowners like myself. Suburban camouflage.
It is possible to smear a Corian countertop with apricot jam followed by a topcoat of margarine and then drizzle the contents of a plastic Honey Bear over the whole thing without alerting the home’s residents that anything is amiss.
I believe my offspring have spent their entire summer vacation doing exactly this. Sadly, I hadn't noticed until last week when I casually leaned on the countertop while chatting with my daughter and couldn’t peel my forearm off it. The upside is that I’ll never pay for an arm wax again.
You could say I have been a little lax in the housework department. It’s all part of my philosophy that a home doesn’t really need deep cleaning if kids are just going to mess it up again. My children are 8 and 11. It is safe to say we won’t work our way through an entire bottle of Clorox Clean-up for at least a decade. Remember those aprons they used to make in the ‘70s that said "I Hate Housework?" Timeless.
Not that I don’t try. I have cleaning spasms from time to time. I run a vacuum over the living room carpet before company arrives, but only if they are non-family members or have never been here before. And I’m a big fan of the Swiffer Duster. True, mine mostly collects dust from the closet in which it is stored. I try to teach my kids how to pick up after themselves but really the best education is to live with a good role model, and that they don’t have.
When summer vacation started, I was all set with a darling new attempt to engage my children in treating our home with respect while earning what they hold dear – time on the computer. My “Computer Points” charting system enabled them to earn minutes on Club Penguin by performing small cleaning chores from a list. Wipe out kitchen drawer with Lysol wipe and neatly return contents – 5 points! Dust dining room baseboards – 10 points! Windex sliding glass doors – 10 points! Swab bathroom commode – 30 points! (extra for undesirability).
The system worked like a charm, until the kids realized that a half hour of acquiring coins so they could equip an online igloo with a disco ball was not worth sticking your hand into the toilet your sibling used.
That’s how summer vacations seem to go around here. They start off all good intentions and popsicles and day trips. Then they deteriorate into griping, lethargy and dinners of Lucky Charms and a cheese stick. I find myself losing my grip each year at this time. Nerve by nerve, I transform from feeling like a loving, supportive, good-hearted mother to a cranky, underpaid, elderly babysitter. I’m about ready to snap if I hear “Hey Mom” one more time this hour.
This is what I call end-of-summer syndrome. I know I am not the only parent who experiences it, although some mothers are simply better at rallying in the final weeks than others. Honestly, I’m patting myself on the back because I didn’t start having anxiety attacks until well into August this year, compared to the last two summer vacations when mid-July was my breaking point. As a stay-at-home mom with occasional freelance work, it is a wee bit disconcerting to discover I cannot live soundly in a comfortable home with my two generally well-behaved children and a loving, optimistic spouse for more than a few weeks without reaching for a Xanax.
One of the key ways this syndrome presents itself is lack of enthusiasm for daily activities. Like parenting. To be frank, I stopped feeding my children. If they seem weak, I point in the general direction of the kitchen and say “go eat a banana.” On a good morning I’ll put a variety pack of mini cereal boxes on the kitchen table and hope they have enough sense to swish out one of the dirty bowls in the sink.
I don’t believe in over-entertaining children because I come from an era when kids were sent outside in play clothes every day and weren’t expected back until the streetlights came on. Today, our kids spend more time indoors, trying to achieve the next level on their Wii games while remaining sedentary. And we are with them far more than is healthy for anyone. I can’t sit and play Legos or Mario Kart for more than about four minutes without my eyes rolling back in my head. And I’m sure my children have had quite enough of me badgering them to clean their rooms, too -- A trick I use to get them out of my hair when I’m feeling “Hey Mom-ed” to my limit.
I’m not the only one. We were at the neighborhood pool with my friend Shelley (not her real name but darn close) the other day and she admitted her son hadn’t bathed all summer long. She figured his daily dose of chlorine during swim practice was sufficient. Makes for cool spiky green hair, too! As we chatted, I realized I had not put sunscreen on the kids – something I had been manic about the first two months of summer. Nor had I even brought the canvas tote in which we keep goggles, towels, change for the snack shack, flip flops and anything else considered a necessity for an afternoon of swimming. I found myself spinning my negligent parenting as irresponsibility on my daughter’s part:
I’m giving you the opportunity to be independent, I told her. You keep asking for more freedom. Well, next time maybe you’ll remember to bring your goggles and a towel when it's time to go.
I turned around just in time to see Heather coming into the pool area trailed by her two children, singing the familiar refrain: I’m sick and tired of listening to you two argue all day. It was validating.
Let me make it perfectly clear. We are the good moms. During the school year, we're the ones you want to carpool with. The ones who always chaperone field trips and make sure there are a variety of food groups in different colors in our children's lunchboxes. We're the gals who volunteer in classrooms each week so all the second graders who benefit from it can have math centers.
In defense of the good moms, we’re not complete slackers. My kids may have had a poor man's summer vacation, due to my stay-at-home status, but it hasn't been a complete bust. I’m estimating my children have had about 30 play dates this summer, attended art/basketball/cooking/photography classes, enjoyed a family trip to the mountains, visited their cousins, went to a wedding, attended a baptism, built a boat from cardboard for the local boat derby, swam at the neighborhood pool, hiked on nature trails, tubed down a river, made their own home movies, played on the Slip-N-Slide, climbed trees, constructed and consumed several ice cream sundaes, built Lego villages, had a handful of sleepovers, visited the Academy of Sciences, spied on each other, went to an outdoor concert of Caribbean music, built dozens of forts, participated in the public library’s summer reading program, turned the hose on our backyard hill and slid down it, saw every G and PG-rated summer movie in a theatre with a bucket of popcorn, visited all of their grandparents, had water balloon fights and ate a lot of pizza.
So, we really shouldn’t feel too guilty for missing a meal now and then, skipping a bath or thirty, lacking logic and patience on occassion or not modeling good housekeeping.
In two days, school starts again and we’ll all be cured. The family clock gets reset, normalcy returns and we start a fresh new chapter. I can’t wait to be a good parent again. I'm going to start by wiping down the counters.