As we enter the month of August, the dog days of summer, I share this essay from my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real. I wrote it a couple of years ago, but not much has changed for working families struggling to piece child care together until school begins and normalcy returns. One set of grandkids is actually starting school today, which is a huge relief because their summer nanny left two weeks ago, and their parents had to scramble to find family members and sitters to watch the kids so they could work.
For the rest of my grandchildren, the available supervised activities in August are few and far between. The lack of stability is wearing very thin as my grandchildren transition from one program to another with gaps that put huge pressure on their parents, who do not get the month off from work. This is especially true for my grandkids with special needs. For children like them, August is the time when children who need the most structure receive the least.
As an aside, the dog days refers to the time of year when Sirius, the Dog Star, rises at the same time as the sun, not when dogs are panting from the heat, as I always believed. But I digress. August is not my favorite month no matter how you slice it:
I should love August. I was married August 18, 1968, and am getting close to celebrating the fifty-year mark. But I have always disagreed with T. S. Eliot who proclaimed in his poem The Wasteland that, “April is the cruelest month.” For me it’s August.
I’m sure T. S. Eliot, who was depressed, found the springtime month of April difficult. A month known for “mixing memory and desire,” and “stirring dull roots with spring rain” was hard for him to celebrate in his state of mind. But anyone with kids knows it’s August that is really the pits.
Here’s what I associate with August: high heat and humidity. Kids no longer delighted by a trip to the beach or running through a sprinkler. Boredom (not always a bad thing, but the whining and sibling fights that accompanied it drove me up a wall). Dread (for the kids) that summer was almost over and school was just a calendar page-flip away. August was the month when summer vacation felt stale. Even beautiful weather left me uninspired as I noted with envy that other families seemed to be taking actual vacations.
I remember reading the book August by Judith Rossner back in 1983 when my kids were twelve, nine, and six, and I thought my brain was about to explode. The book was about August in New York when all of the shrinks leave town for a month-long vacation. I guess the culture in Chicago was different, as my shrink husband could only manage a week off. By the end of that August, I was ready to move.
Actually, the beginning of this August won’t be too bad for me. My husband and I will be attending our nephew’s wedding in Michigan and stopping at our good friends’ summer cottage on the way home. So now we are up to August 4. There will still be many days left to help my daughter who lives near me. Her August looks like the recipe for disaster I remember so well:
- Take three kids-who-have-nothing-to-do.
- Fold in the fact that Mom needs to work.
- Mix with babysitters on their own vacations or leaving for college.
- Add a grandmother about to turn seventy to the mixture.
- Bake in high heat and humidity sprinkled with thunderstorms.
Yes, she is also taking a week’s vacation, which is great. Actually, vacation is the wrong word. It will be a family trip driving to South Dakota in a minivan. Change of scenery but still dealing with three kids who need to be entertained. Perhaps my daughter’s family should leave our no-vacation-nation and move to France. I hear they still take August off in Europe, even those who are not shrinks. And, unlike my daughter, they get paid. Just kidding. I would really miss them.
I looked at the long-range forecast for August the other day. There is a bright sun and an eighty-four degree high predicted for August 1. After that, I see lots of those little clouds with rain. At least climate change has resulted in fewer days above ninety degrees. And there is that first day of school looming at the end of the rainbow. Like a pot of gold.