Answer: When your kids are 10 and 14.
Fast forward 5+ years, and I'm a single, working mom struggling to balance giving my kids the summer that I think they should have with a job I need to have. My older son is volunteering at a day camp (begrudgingly and at his mother's "strong suggestion") and the younger one is home with a wonderful sitter who may in fact be Mary Poppins reincarnated.
You can't beat that, right?
Here's the deal, though. When I get home, they're tired. Worn out. And I've been sitting at a desk all day and ready to go hike, swim, climb, bike... do SOMETHING. And they're just not game.
Here's a typical summer suggestion hit list from Mom and their response.
Them: We don't have any friends there.
Me: Miniature Golf?
Them: Too hot.
Them: Too tired.
Them: Too old.
Them: We suck at bowling.
Me: Don't say "suck".
Them: That's so stupid. Everyone says "suck".
See where this is going?
Now when I was their age (oh, here we go, you say) I don't remember relying on my mom to be my entertainment director. I was hanging out with my friends. My mom would put on her Jackie O. sunglasses and scarf and hop in our old convertible Mustang and drop me off at the local pool, where I'd spend the whole day then walk (yes, walk!) home. In the evenings, I'd ride my bike around the neighborhood or watch movies in my friends' basements. But we here are at kind of a transitional stage - relatively new to this area of town and school district. We don't know our neighbors, nor have the kids made many friends yet. So they sit at home a lot, until I somehow convince them to do something that they a) don't really want to do and b) certainly don't want to do with their mom.
I feel bad. And guilty. It's summer, and they should be enjoying it and being the carefree kids that they are allowed to be until the day they turn 16 and their lives become segmented with work responsibilities. They should be sleeping late, watching cartoons, then rushing to get dressed because a bunch of kids just rang the doorbell. From there, I don't see hide nor hair of them until dinnertime. Now THAT'S a summer.
I had that. I miss that. I wish I would have enjoyed that more, knowing that one day my kids would too soon forget how to be kids. That they'd be in such a hurry to grow up. That they would want to abandon the things that we adults pine for as some of the happiest times of our lives.
I wish I could tell them. I wish I could make them understand what they're missing, even if they have to do these things with their mother. I wish they could just want to stay kids for another couple of years, and not be in such a hurry to drive, to get a job, to leave the house. I'll eventually be ready, but I'm not one to rush things. Because I know what's in store for them, and it isn't summers like these.
There's the door kids. Go. Feel the sun on your face, the grass between your toes, the water on your skin. Run. Bike. Swim. Enjoy. There will come a day when you will long to just go outside... and play.