Summer of Our Discontent
Embrace the vacation horror.


Jennifer Graham

Asked if I wanted to write a summer-vacation survival guide, I snorted and said I’d be happy to read one. And, anyway, whose survival is it that we’re seeking to ensure?

If it’s that of the children — newly released from the rigors of the public-school system, where, this past year, one of mine watched A Bug’s Life in eighth-grade English class — I’ll pass. I’ve been to Chuck E. Cheese and surveyed the population; we can afford to lose a few thousand of ‘em without jeopardizing the replacement rate.

The grown-ups are another story. America is already hurting for lack of adult supervision, so it behooves us all to grasp hands, take cleansing breaths, and buck each other up in July and August. It matters not whether you are a parent with children at home, an empty nester or a DINK. The alarming outbreak of children affects us all. It’s us against them, and many of them are on skateboards, headed straight for our BMWs.

The concept of summer vacation is terrific. Who doesn’t need a break from routine? There are no buses to catch, no lunches to pack, and the day beckons pleasantly: Come! Abandon all homework ye who enter here! Scamper about the lawn with your children; play croquet and eat ice cream! Here loom two glorious months in which to sun ourselves on rocks, grill instead of bake, and drift off to sleep at night without wondering if we truly understand gerunds and participles. Are we smarter than our fifth graders? Who cares? It’s summer, time for fun!

This happy state of mind lasts about an hour.

By 10 A.M., reality descends, and the 13-year-old returns to bed with a sore throat, the 8-year-old proclaims boredom, and the first thunderstorms of the season arrive, depositing enough e. coli in the local lakes to close them for the rest of the week.

By 11, someone asks, “What’s for lunch?”

Lunch? I gotta feed them LUNCH?

For the past nine months, stay-at-home mothers have blown through the lunch hour with a handful of almonds or a ZonePerfect toffee bar while our offspring eat platters of nachos and French fries at the same schools that later send us letters complaining about our children’s BMIs. We uncomplainingly prepare hot breakfasts and dinners, but the addition of another meal to plan and prepare on a lazy day of summer seems gratuitously cruel. Yet, incredibly, my ungrateful progeny reject my offer of ten walnuts and a banana, forcing me back to the kitchen.

By the end of the first day of “vacation,” every stay-at-home mother is rethinking Linda Hirshman and scanning help-wanted ads surreptitiously. The working moms, meanwhile, sit in their orderly, air-conditioned offices, oblivious to the sweat and stench that accompany the sticky children of summer, and thinking wistfully of their own childhood summers spent catching fireflies in Mason jars and selling ten-cent Kool-Aid from a card table on the front lawn. Wishing that they could revisit those days, they think — fleetingly — that maybe the SAHMs have it right, and really, they should march into the boss’s office and offer two week’s notice. But then it occurs to them: If they were home now, they’d be making peanut-butter sandwiches, and consuming half-eaten crusts for their lunch. Better Ruby Tuesday’s salad bar, and joyously back to work.