By: Dr. Amber Kinser, Ph.D.
It is difficult for me sometimes to keep my deep resentment of “the state” and its intrusions into my family life at bay. I can feel those dark waters starting to churn this week as my son heads back to school (I know, right? Summer? Anyone? Help a sister out here). We are on a year-round school program which, instead of giving an 11-week summer, gives a 6-week summer and places the other 5 weeks at other spots in the school year. This plan would work better if schools in general were on such a schedule, because it would mean that there would be more options for summer programming and camps and the like during that sorry-excuse-for-a-summer we get and it would mean that those 2-3 week breaks in the middle of the school year would represent something other than the biggest-hassle-of-my-stinkin’-life as I try to figure out how to provide some kind of supervision for my (yikes) now 13-year-old while simultaneously keeping my job. If all the schools were on these big breaks than surely I’d have some options here. It seems.
Now the truth of the matter is that, as a full time mom who also works outside the home full time, I do benefit from my son being back in school as do many, many parents, despite the fact that it breaks up a long and (for some people) leisurely summer and despite the fact that it, perhaps more importantly, rubs up against our sense of what ought to count as a summer break. But even so, it just seems dead wrong somehow to go back to school in July. I don’t know, I just can’t seem to get it to feel right. Maybe one reason I’m struggling so, now that I think of it, is that our school does not find it sufficient to take a machete to my son’s summer (read: my summer); oh no. It feels at liberty to assign a summer reading project over summer! Can somebody help me out here? Now, the truth of this matter is that I wholly support reading year-round and foster an environment of love-for-books in our house, and send my son to camp with a couple of books and (worn) reminders that “reading is the key to everything.” Even so, I’d like for this to be my own lesson about the importance of reading and how it interweaves into all of life. And I’d like for this to be my son’s own choice—to read or not read in a given moment based solely on his own passions and desires; to read what he wants and not what’s on the teacher’s list doled out at the end of the previous school year (you know the one—we were just there a few weeks ago for god’s sake).
The schools, and the experts, and the cultural powers that claim to know more about how my children and I should spend our time have such immense power in shaping every movement of my family life, as writers like Judith Warner (Perfect Madness) and Susan Douglas & Meredith Michaels (The Mommy Myth) have explained, and the work of organizations like The Motherhood Project have worked to highlight. Well I’d really like for them to value the family for a change. I’d like for them to keep their hands and their book lists and their reading assignments and their presumptuous intrusions off of my summer! Quit sucking the fun and personal volition right out of the children’s every reading endeavor! Leave a brother alone for 5 stinkin’ weeks, would you please?