In memories of my Texas childhood, the few months between school years unfolded in a vast landscape of play. The summer took a break from the anxiety-induced stomach pain that made me flee to the school nurse’s office week after week. As soon as June arrived, I burned my soles on the local basketball black sheet and then happily scraped it against the plaster floor of the Jewish Community Center pool. I sucked long frozen tubes of brightly colored corn syrup and beat hungry mosquitoes off my friends’ legs in the grass. I stood in front of the drugstore’s air-conditioning while my sweat froze in jewelry; I slept in the hot car after a long day away from my parents. I was free.

I took it for granted that once my daughter reached school age, her summers would look like mine. After so many seasons of longing (including the pandemic homeschooling era we are not talking about), we have finally reached my child’s first real summer this year. But decades after my own sun-drenched nightmares, summer looks very different to our family – and many other families across the country. With the high cost and limited availability of camps, the increased cost of living that requires more dual-working parent families, fewer multi-generation households than in other nations, and the social expectation that parents (often mothers) are on their own to determine it all, the separation between the way we spent our summers as children – and how our parents spent theirs when we were young – and how we are now forced to approach the season as caregivers, has expanded into a gaping chasm .

Maybe I should have seen it in early May when I, feeling excited and almost on the other side of my child’s first year of public school, safely took my anti-anxiety medication to my psychiatrist. I was hoping I could fly solo for the summer, a season I have always associated with happy possibilities. My scaffolding was ready, I thought.

I struggled for months to put together a patchwork quilt of childcare plans for the summer to ensure I (as the more flexible working parent) could keep working. I was lucky (and early) enough to enroll my daughter for a full list of camps, but they mostly started at 9 and ended at 3, much less coverage than a normal workday requires. We also hoped to eventually visit family on the other side of the country – my daughter’s first plane ride since January 2020 – but making any travel plans felt like tempting the Covid gods. On top of that, rising air fares have made our budget groan. Add to that the mix that Cardi B predicted a recession on Twitter, the Supreme Court threatened to send society back to the 18th century, and the threat of another terrible fire season cast an orange-colored shadow over the West Coast . It was all a recipe for a collapse – mine specifically. In retrospect, my head may have stuck in the sandbox of my past.

My psychiatrist did not think the time was right for me to try raw-dogging reality. “Increased time with your child can be fun, of course,” she offered, but suggested waiting to see how I feel in the fall. She also trusted that she tells many moms not to make big moves over the summer.

While it is impossible to foresee all the ways our society will break your heart, disillusionment with the warmer months is not just about sitting under the weight of normal parental responsibility. Summers are getting worse. For one, they get warmer on average, and the number of extremely hot days increases. Across the country, June has already hit temperatures more typical of July or August. In my home state of Texas, experts (and my parents) are worried that the deregulated power grid – which has already failed spectacularly during the winter – will not last, as temperatures soar to beyond even the scorching highs I remember. Summer has always meant hurricane season for families living near the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf, but those storms are also getting worse. Here in San Francisco where summer is affectionately called “June Gloom” for its usual cool mist, and few homes have air conditioning (mine certainly did not), heat waves have become more common, causing even rolling power outages and pleas for conservation. West Coasters, which previously had a postponement of fire season to at least mid-summer, now live from spring to early winter with veld fire danger. Every time I walk past the arid yellow hill in the middle of my neighborhood, I remember how quickly those clouds of smoke can descend.

It does not take an anxiety disorder to feel climate change’s urgent and ominous threat to our children’s future, but for many parents across the country, the risks of illness due to smoking, heat or flood water already disrupt summer child care. Even as I was writing this piece, my daughter’s asthma, exacerbated by wildly high pollen counts and unusually hot, dry winds, kept her home for four non-refundable days of camping.

In fact, summers are capturing the depths of the childcare crisis in this country. I live in an expensive city, but even I was shocked to hear that according to the American Camp Association (ACA), the average cost of day camp in the US has more than doubled since last year: from $ 76 to $ 178 per day. Let us not forget that a “day” of camp rarely matches the standardized American workday. That gap means renting more help, or borrowing from a parent’s paid hours, and – if available – limited vacation time. (And even dealing with colleagues who may be fed up with parental accommodation.) Without taking into account any extra support (or lost earnings), $ 178 a day for 11 weeks brings the average cost of summer child care to a whopping $ 9,790, more than the average annual cost of care for preschool age in this country. So much for my excitement to finally reach the sacred threshold of public schooling and leave the cost of private education behind.

All the same issues that are currently affecting other industries are also being addressed in summer camps: inflation, rising rents, scarcity of materials, family care obligations and the ongoing consequences of Covid upswings. After some difficult years through the pandemic when she took out a PPP loan to pay counselors and reduced capacity to meet Covid security requirements, Alamander Camp Director Sasha Siegelbaum moved operations from Brooklyn to Mount Kisco this summer. New York, moved. The decision was a personal one – the area has a specialty school for her older child who has a disability – but the camp’s future in Brooklyn was already shaky, given the place they rented in Clinton Hill for years (and where to I sent) my own daughter) was recently sold. Finding a new space large enough to accommodate the camp would have been an uphill climb for Siegelbaum; she and her co-owner would probably have closed Alamander completely if not for the move. “Camping is such an important part of growing up and exploring your interests,” Siegelbaum said, emphasizing that quality of care is just as essential as coverage, if not more. “It would be great if we could find a way to subsidize it.”

The recent jump in camp prices could be skewed by increases in spending on tightened health protocols (including applications and forms for daily health enrollments) and increases in demand now that parents are more comfortable with group settings, but costs before Covid were also unsustainable. In 2018, an analysis by the Center for American Progress estimated that the average family should expect to spend 20% of their income on childcare costs during the summer. And nearly half of parents surveyed by New America for a 2018 report on The Summer Care Gap said it was difficult to afford care for their children over the summer. As with most parenting challenges, there are cheaper paths out there if you have the time, flexibility, and wild determination needed. Nonprofits like the YMCA or my old friend the JCC, and municipal efforts like San Francisco’s Summer Together program, offer more cost-effective options for parents, but space is limited and caregivers need to know where and when to start looking. For example, our very own SF Parks and Rec’s fantastic and very affordable camps required to log on to their website at a precise time on a particular morning and I missed my chance by a day.

Even that symbol of childhood summer, the bustling public swimming pool, suffers in this economic and public health climate. After two years of closed facilities, canceled activities and delayed milestones due to Covid, this summer has kept the promise of a return to chlorinated waters. But in June, the NYC Parks Department announced it was canceling all swimming programs across its pools, and the American Lifeguard Association estimates that nearly half of public pools across the country will be affected by labor shortages this summer. Some cities are raising lifeguard wages – which are typically at or just above the minimum wage – in the hope of solving their problem locally. Parents who have their own swimming pools or can afford private access will be able to give their children the life-saving lessons needed to thrive in the water. But for many families across the country, children just will not learn to swim this summer. Add that sadness to the ever-growing hope and pray that the next news that comes our way is not about increased drowning rates.

As parents, we often muscle through rough spots by reminding ourselves to be grateful. Grateful for self-swallowing sleepers and new vaccines, thankful for a faded scar or a temporary remission of a bad cold. In light of this summer’s increasing challenges, I’m endlessly grateful for the support system I built and which was fortunate enough to benefit from – including, of course, the Lexapro I’m still banging and the psychiatrist who encouraged me to take care of myself. I am equally grateful to my parent friends, my family and community, to my daughter’s emotional resilience and the effectiveness of a home nebulizer for her asthma. I am grateful for wonderful summer memories from my childhood, and the ability to find new ways to give my daughter her own, even if it is not the same as I imagined.

I’m grateful to live in California where public schools continue to provide free lunches to all students during the school year through the summer months, even after the federal child nutrition Covid-19 waiver expired in June, and where lawmakers work around the state ‘ a safe haven for trans children. I am grateful to the teachers and counselors who are caring for my daughter this summer, who love her more than the job requires (or honestly compensates). Finally, I am grateful for the one eternal truth of parenting: that everything is just a phase, and that – except for a catastrophic environment or gun-related event – my child will one day be a teenager and then an adult who can make her own choices about how to spend her time during the summer. Rest assured, I’m grateful. But this year, I am also tired, very anxious – even while taking medication – and furious at the political and capitalist forces in this country that are dropping American families into another deep hole of unexpected stress without the priorities or policies in place to to help us climb out.

Related Posts