The Full Spectrum: How To Make A Working Mom Feel Crappy

The Full Spectrum focuses on the trials and tribulations of raising a child who ranks on the autism spectrum.

It’s our school’s end-of-year picnic and the kids are engaged in an epic take-no-prisoners water fight. There are water guns, super soakers and even some mega water canons providing enough ammunition to keep them going for more than two, soaking-wet hours.

The real battle, however, is happening on the sidelines.

As the moms at the picnic discuss their children’s plans for the summer, a showdown emerges: The programmed kids versus the non-programmed kids. It’s a classic battle, actually.

While certain moms claim they have absolutely nothing planned for the summer so that their kids can just ”explore the city and go at their own pace,” working moms everywhere go on the offensive. (Or is it the defensive? Depends what side you’re on, I guess.)

The philosophy that summer is a time for kids to unwind and be free from schedules and programming is hard to argue with. How can any child of the 70s not buy into the nostalgic belief that kids today are overworked and over-programmed, that a little time off the treadmill would ultimately make them better, and more grounded, adults? The problem is that working moms like myself don’t have that luxury. Someone needs to watch our kids.

Summer vacation lasts for 10 very long weeks and working mothers everywhere start staring at the calendar in May and begin filling in the ”unscheduled” days. You know the ones: the days after school ends but before camp begins; that annoying week between camp session changeover; and that dreaded week before (Canadian) Labor Day, when there is absolutely nothing happening in the world of programs.

Put all those days together and you’re looking at least two weeks off of work (for lots of people, that’s an entire year’s worth of vacation time). It’s one thing to have a lazy summer with your kids when you’re a stay-at-home mom with school-age children who are gone all day during the year. When you work a stressful, fast-paced job spending your days juggling between the high pressure of your job with the never-ending demands of the family and household you need some time to yourself once in a while.

Where does this leave the kids? In that horrible place we call summer camp with its terrible activities like horseback riding, swimming, soccer, arts and crafts, as well as the torturous new electives like biking, digital video, rock climbing and yoga. (It’s a hard life but someone has to do it.)

So while I sit on this park bench, talking to a free-range mom about her lack of summer programming, I find myself in a predicament. I don”t disagree with her philosophy of summer downtime, but it doesn’t matter what I believe. The reality is that I am a working mom and, like the many other sacrifices I make in the name of feeding and housing my children, I have no choice but to program my kids during working hours. Meanwhile, my complicated feelings about over-programming are even more compounded by the fact that having a kid on the spectrum presents its own unique challenges. I have to factor in how much socializing my son can do in one day (he usually expires by mid-afternoon).

But rather than explain my conflicted feelings to this mom, I wimp out. ”Maybe one day I’ll take the summer off,” I tell her. To which she leans in close and replies, ”Yes, you must do it now! Seize the day.” For a fleeting moment, I live the dream with her. Then reality sinks in and I realize that the battle, as usual, was not with her but within myself.

(Photo: iStockphoto)

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