Archive for July 2010

Stepping back in [summer]time

July 2, 2010

There are many ways in which moving to a small town from a larger city centre is like stepping back in time. I’m not talking about being the last to get the latest movies – which we sometimes are up here, but maybe only by a few hours – or the fact that the first hairdresser I went to here gave me a mullet (yes for real, but in her defense, I brought in a terrible picture, and didn’t explain very well what I wanted…I have since found someone else in this town to cut my hair, who did a much better job, no more mullet!). I’m not even talking about a lack of technology, because I have a terrific internet connection (thank goodness!). What I’m referring to, is the lifestyle of young families, and what mothers of this generation tend to do in the summer. In the city, most kids come from double-income families, and will be spending most of their summer holidays at home. But the situation is different in in smaller locales.

In my experience, the further away from a big city you get, the more stay-at-home moms you find. A lot of locals here have a camper at a nearby campground, or a cabin on a lake. Many mothers take their kids to those places for most of the summer. Since they are close to their summer get-aways, they can come and go from town as often as they like, without traffic to contend with.

As there are now more people living in cities than in rural areas (at least in Canada, although I think I recently read that as a stat for the entire globe), that means there aren’t a lot of us stay-at-home moms. But if you’re like me, and you’ve followed your husband’s career to a location far away from family, you are enacting a version of what the locals do, and are likely heading “home” for most or at least part of the summer.

My next door neighbour left a week ago with her three kids, to do some camping with her parents. My other dear friends left today. Two weeks from now, my kids and I will be arriving in Toronto, searching for my dad (aka Grumpa)’s smiling face to greet us and drive us the two hours north to cottage country, where my parents now call home.

My parents live on Georgian Bay. I’ve always loved the stories from a generation ago, when hundreds of mothers migrated from cities and towns once school was out, unpacking towels and bathing suits, the official uniforms of summertime, and spreading themselves out across the lake at their various cottages and cabins. At the peak of this hiatus, boat-only access ice cream stores were busier than the most popular downtown Toronto restaurants, and many a girl-chat was had over cocktails, with one eye always on the children splashing in the water.

Today, so many of those moms are working equal days and hours to the fathers of their children, that most of those ice cream places have closed down. There are new resorts in cottage country where families go together during the one or two weeks, or one or two long weekends, that mom and dad get off together. And the rest of the summer, well, the kids are in daycare or day camps back in the city.

The thing that saddens me about the loss of this way of life, is that there are more and more kids who rarely get out of the city. I was one of the lucky ones, for when I was still enjoying childhood my mom was a teacher, and summers for us were spent at the cottage. Shoes were only for going into town to fetch groceries, and bugs and sticks and dirt were my best friends. There were always lots of other kids around, and together we’d find crayfish and clams amongst the boulders by the beach, build sandcastles and rock collections, have campfires and watch sunsets. Summers were a nice balance to year-long classroom learning.

Dads weren’t missing out on all the fun, either. On weekends they would head north to join their families, to take the kids out fishing, to putter around and tinker with anything that needed fixing, and to unwind from their work weeks. But most dads I’ve known have also enjoyed their work weeks at home alone, at least in part, to be able to do what they do best: focus on their job, without the distraction of family. It’s all a balance!

I also know of some families who split their holidays, so that when one parent is working, the other has the kids out on some holiday or other. This gives the kids more time outdoors, even though the parents don’t get as much time together.

I am a little torn about “leaving” my husband for about a month this summer. But with the kids home from school, and him working 12-hour days, it wouldn’t be much fun for us here. Besides, the grandparents are anxious to spend some time with the kids. My hubby will join us for a week this summer, so we can enjoy family time together. And as I pack up, I look forward to the fact that I am giving my kids the opportunity to enjoy summer the way I did, surrounded by love and attention, but with the freedom to explore, bare toes in the sand, and learn in a short-lived, unstructured way that only ever happens in summertime.