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The Most Underreported Summer Parenting Stress

Erin Zammett Ruddy

We all obsess about pools and riptides and poison ivy and sunburns and, if you’re me, the fact that it stays light until 9 p.m. making that 7:45 bedtime a really tough sell. But the thing that irks me the most about parenting in the summer is….

the $%@*! ice cream man. He comes by my house playing that cloying tune at least three times a day turning me into “the evil mom who doesn’t let her children eat ice cream whenever they damn please.” And, of course, he always does his drive by during naptime and right before dinner. Every. Single. Day. We have several interconnecting streets in our neighborhood so it’s as if he’s constantly hovering, taunting, waiting to find the chink in my armor that allows my kids to come running out the front door with fistfuls of bills. Even when the kids aren’t there, I am. And I sit in front of my computer trying to write serious intros for important stories for big magazines (or sometimes silly sex stories for big magazines) and all I can hear is that little jingle. I hate the ice cream man. There, I said it.

I do not hate ice cream, despite the fact that I was pretty much born without a sweet tooth (I would take a bag of Doritos over a pint of Ben and Jerrys any day of the week), but I understand sweets. And I enjoy the hell out of them every once and while. And as much as I try to limit Nora and Alex’s sugar intake, they get plenty. Plenty. And, more importantly, I know that ice cream and summer go together like, well, ice cream and summer. Some of my best memories are of my dad taking us to Baskin & Robbins or Carvel on a hot day (I’m a chocolate girl all the way, preferably with peanut butter or brownie chunks, always on a sugar cone, possibly with chocolate crunchies on top, never with sprinkles, and in a pinch I love me some mint chocolate chip). But the thing about those memories is they were on my parents’ terms. They were outings. They were special. It wasn’t me begging and pleading until they caved and I could go buy a stupid Sonic the Hedgehodge ice cream with black gumball eyes (this is what Alex got the other day and it made me sad). To me, the ice cream man hovering in front of your house every day is like your mom coming over announcing, “Grandma has candy! Who wants candy?” and then you having to be the Debbie Downer who says, “Are you effing serious mom? I got candy on Easter and Halloween as a kid so beat it with that crap.” (A nicer, expletive-free form of this conversation has taken place numerous times with both my mother and Nick’s mother.) In other words, I feel a little undermined and a little trapped. And a lot like the bad guy. Am I mom enough to say no to the ice cream man every single day of the summer, which, as far as the ice cream man is concerned is April through October? I don’t know. I’m not excited to find out. 

And here’s the worst part: The few times I actually said yes last year when we heard the ice cream man's little jingle, we waited and waited and he never came. We’d hear the song getting louder and then fading. We’d get excited and think he was just around the bend but then he never showed. Classic. Because it’s the beginning of the season, my kids are still asking every time they hear that tune crank up. I’ve already caved twice because it’s almost summer and the novelty hasn’t quite worn off (in all fairness Nick and I are also saying “it’s almost summer, let’s crack that bottle of wine!”). But pretty soon it’s going to go back to special occasion only. I’m just not sure what that special occasion is. Last summer it was whenever I didn’t feel like I had the backbone to argue with them about it. Or if I needed an activity to get me the half hour to dinner. Have I mentioned there’s also an ice cream man stationed around-the-clock at our park and our beach? My friend, Annette, who lives in an ice cream man kinda neighborhood, made a Sundays-only rule. What’s your ice cream man policy? Does he irk you as much as he irks me? Do you think I’m a horrible fun-crushing mom?