As a Poor, Work-From-Home Mom, I Hate Summer ‘Break’
It’s noon. So far today, I've fetched approximately four packs of fruit snacks, two bowls of pretzels, one strawberry bar, a bowl of blueberries and two cups of juice. My laptop is booted up and ready for me to sit down and start writing — but as soon as I get comfortable, my son needs me to fetch something else. As I cut strawberries, I wonder how many more times I’ll have to do this exact thing this week. We’re a few weeks into summer "vacation," and I’m already very over it.
"How many days until school starts again?" I ask myself as I sit back down at my computer, afraid to start typing for fear of being asked for something else.
The answer is: simply too many. My son got out of school the first week of May, and he won’t go back until sometime in August. That’s a solid three months of being stuck at home with a 4-year-old day in and day out. As a single mom who works from home, I don’t get a summer "break" — or even a "break" during the day. At all. I squeeze writing in between fetching snacks, mediating tantrums and arguing over being able to watch YouTube on the television versus my phone. If I’m lucky, I remember to feed myself at some point during one of my son's 30 snack breaks.
As I work, my son builds elaborate designs for his train tracks. He does it mostly on his own, which is great — until he gets stuck and cries for me to come and fix it. I then lose two would-be work minutes calming him down and eight rebuilding the track. Then he watches a Thomas and Friends movie while I make some decent headway with my writing. Next comes two minutes of arguing about what my son is going to watch next.
“Can you please just decide so I can get back to work?” I huff, waving the remote for emphasis. Thank God for television. Finally, he decides, and I get back to work — and then my son requests chocolate. I groan as I schlep back into the kitchen and pluck exactly four small chocolates out of the container on top of the fridge. (They can’t be on the counter anymore because he’s tall enough to reach them and will grab them without permission.)
I wonder how many words I’ll get to write this time before my son needs me for something else. As I type, I begin to wonder what activities we can do this week. I know I’ll need to go grocery shopping, so that’ll take up some time. Even though it bores me to tears, we can spend at least one afternoon at the local playground. But that still leaves... so many hours to kill.
“Why don’t you just put him in summer camp or day care?” you ask?
Because that costs money I don’t have, that's why. I make a pretty decent living as a freelancer, but not enough to afford all-day childcare. As it is, I work from home to avoid having to pay outrageous day care costs. And when I looked into summer camp, I was shocked. Approximately six weeks of summer camp is equal to my month’s rent. I simply can’t afford that, even with financial help from my son's dad. And since he’s only 4, there aren't many camp options for us even if we could afford it.
To me, summer days feel endless. After about two hours of "work," I’ve finished enough to feel comfortable stopping. I beg my son to put on real clothes and get his backpack together to go to the playground.
As we walk to the playground, I can see the summer stretching out endlessly before us. What on earth are we going to do all summer? I’m trying to plan a trip back east to visit our family, but for the two of us to fly round-trip is ridiculously expensive. Los Angeles is pretty spread out; I don’t drive, and taking Ubers to places gets expensive very quickly. Universal Studios would cost me way too much just on admission, and my kid would probably lose interest and want to go home after an hour. Preschool-age activities at our local library usually happen during the hours I need to be working.
After a particularly grueling day and then an even worse night trying to get my son to go to bed, I sent his father a message to let him know I need him to help me get his son through the summer. "I need a break," I wrote. My house is in shambles all the time; it’s impossible to clean the floors while my kid is running around offering to help me sweep. I want to try to exercise a couple of times a week, if only just to get out of the house. I don't have money.
My son's dad agreed to take him two evenings a week — but I’m still stuck with him during working hours. It’s hard. It’s really hard. The constant division of my attention makes me feel like I’m not giving anything — my son or my work — my all, not doing my best at my job or being a mom.
I want to be able to enjoy these years with my son. I know they grow so fast. But the reality is, if I’m not working, we will not have a roof over our heads or food to eat. Summer is absolute hell for poor parents, and I don’t think we put enough emphasis on the people we’re underserving.