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Parenting

Summer break(down)

Dave McGinn discusses the family summer calendar with his children in their Toronto home on August 3, 2017.

With his kids out of daycare, Dave McGinn is ready for a vacation from summer vacation

Tired yet? Today we kick off our series on the exhaustion of summer, exploring why some of us are looking forward to September.

Back when summer was just an idea, I remember looking at blank calendar pages and thinking, how hard could it be?

This was the first summer my kids weren't in daycare. All my wife and I had to do, after all, was fill nine weeks of activities for our two kids. It would be easy. A few camps here, a babysitter there. I'd take a week off; my wife would take a week off. The summer would come and go just like that. We'd all be tanned. We'd all have eaten our weight in soft-serve ice cream from trucks parked besides beaches. Then it would be September, and we would look back on a languid season that passed by too easily and too quickly.

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It was a lovely thought, standing there in front of a blank calendar in my kitchen all those months ago. Here, just past the midway point of summer, I can tell you that is not how things have turned out.

My calendar now looks like a mad mathematician's notebook. The notation is different, but the desperate searching for answers is the same. I have been consumed by finding camps the way I used to look for concerts. I have raced to pick up cranky kids and then worked in the evenings to make up for lost time. I have schlepped scooters and helmets and sunscreen to the park in what have definitely not been lazy days of summer. Now, with four more weeks to go, I am looking forward to September so that I can enjoy some much needed rest.

Ask any parent with young children and they will tell you a similar story. All the planning, all the shuttling kids to and from one activity or another, all the cost and stress leave most parents spent – financially, physically, emotionally. Summer is an all-consuming season.

"All my time is spent in kid programming," one lawyer friend told me.

By the time evening comes, he's too tired to do much of anything. "I used to sit out on the porch reading a book. I think I've done that twice all summer," he says.

Most of the personal projects on his to-do list are hopeless causes, with no time left for them.

"The garden has been totally neglected. We gave up on that two months ago," he says.

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When you're dealing with the logistical nightmare of summer, who has time for hobbies?

"There's the double sets of sunscreen which need to be applied before camp. Sometimes there are different camps that require two different drop-offs and pickups, bug spray, bathing suits that need to be dried and back in the bag for the next day, lunches still need to be made," one mother of two who works in human resources told me. "Let's not forget themed camp days, when in addition to all of this, I have to figure out a way to have them dressed like a caveman or astronaut for the following morning."

Of course, she said, she hopes they have fun and love their vacation.

"But I eagerly await September when everything goes back to normal," she said.

Dave McGinn’s family summer calendar is seen in his Toronto home on August 3, 2017.

So far, my kids have been in three different camps, which have drained my finances and come with an emotional toll I hadn't fully expected. My son will walk in to any group of strangers smiling and laughing and ready to make friends. He's the human equivalent of jazz hands. My daughter, however, gets anxious around strangers. I have to psych her up each morning like a boxer's corner man. Neither one of us enjoy it all that much.

"For some children, transitions are very difficult," said Sara Dimerman, a Thornhill, Ont.-based parenting expert. "It's very stressful."

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When kids are at school, you usually don't worry about how they are faring. When they're at camp, all I do is worry. Are they making friends? Are they having fun? Did I put water bottles in their backpacks? Can I make it to the bus on time?

This week coming up – my one and only full week of summer vacation – I will rack my brain trying to think of things for the three of us to do. I will take them to the park. I will take them to the pool. I will referee their bickering by making them go to separate rooms. I will let them watch way too much iPad. I will text other parents desperately in search of the holy grail: play dates for both of them at other kids' houses at the same time, so that I can sit on the porch and try not to think about how to make it through the rest of the week.

The sitter we have booked for the following week has already asked how much trouble it would be if she bailed. She is 16 years old and has a regatta. I asked her, half-jokingly, if I could come along. She looked at me like a sad and desperate man, because that's what I am.

The week after that there is a swimming camp, and then my wife will tag in for a week to solo parent during the day. If all of us are together, it will be to go back-to-school shopping.

And then summer will be over. I will stand in front of the giant calendar I drew in chalk and wipe it clean with sweet relief. If I am not holding a gin and tonic as I do it, I will pour myself one soon after.

Once the calendar is gone and the final logistical hurdles have been jumped, I will raise my glass and utter words I once never thought possible: Thank God it's September.


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