My summer keeps evolving with motherhood. During the preschool years, I was petrified by so many free units of the day with my toddler twins and their not-much-older big sister. We would return from a family vacation wondering why we ever left, but the days at home stretched on with the never-ending challenge of finding new activities for the little ones. I admit, fall became the new summer as I eagerly anticipated the approach of school.
Summer. Was. Exhausting.
When my children entered elementary school, summer became a logistical challenge, as three waddling toddlers morphed into three individuals with different interests, and the ability to articulate and demand specific camps and playdates. I must have empowered my children somewhere along the way, or maybe it is the curse of two lawyers for parents, but my children are master negotiators and each seemed to create a very complicated and demanding summer schedule with different camps each week all over the city. Not unlike preschool, summer seemed endless. I was good and ready when fall arrived.
This summer I have a new perspective: Summer is not long enough. My 11-year-old daughter is at sleepaway camp for a month, which she begged to do. A month away from us. A month of our precious time together lost. I am so happy she is thriving there, blah blah blah.
But. I. Miss. Her.
I am now that crazy "refresh, refresh, refresh" mom who clicks the computer screen hundreds of times a day to see if they have posted any new camp pictures so I can catch a glimpse of my daugher's elbow, back of the head, or, if I'm truly lucky, her face so I can gleen whether she is happy, whether she has put on clean clothes, and whether she looks tired. Now I yearn for a longer summer with endless free units to spend together as a family.
So in the short time we have together this summer, without the pressures of school and extracurricular activities, (and in an effort to distract myself from the camp website), I am sharing a plan for how to savor the summer with family:
1. Create a family summer bucket list
This isn't about exotic trips but about a few special things we will do together as a family before the summer ends. While spontaneity in the summer is admirable (I think I need to add that to my own bucket list), don't underestimate the need for some intentional planning. The end of the summer always seems to surprise me when all sorts of special activities I thought would surely happen, do not happen. Maybe it's an evening staying late at the beach, maybe it's a family outing to a new museum, or maybe it's a special hike. As I read this to my children, they asked me to insert: "pogo-hopping, family relay races, and playing board games together." You see, special things happen when you get your kids involved. You just can't make this stuff up. It becomes more special when we create a list together as a family and then look forward to these moments throughout the summer.
2. Read great books aloud together
The summer time is a great time to read books together as a family. Whether it's Hugo Cabret, Harry Potter, or The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, kids actually enjoy sitting in a park together reading aloud, or getting ready for bed early to snuggle as a family with a book you never want to end (and without homework to worry about). Children have a "listening level" generally about two years above their reading level so this is an opportunity to expose them to text they would otherwise be unable to read, expanding their imaginations and vocabulary. For recommendations of books to read aloud, go to www.parentsreadbest.com or children can submit their own summer reading plan at www.littleblueprint.com.
3. Have a s'mores night at home
Even if there's no time (already planned your vacation?) or inclination (bad back?) to go camping, you can bring one of the best parts of camping to you by toasting smore's one night by the fire at home.
4. Take a weekend road trip
There's nothing like a spontaneous weekend family road trip (I realize it's not entirely spontaneous if it's on a summer bucket list, but it can still be impromptu). It's easier to let go and enjoy an adventure when the children don't have scheduled games, tournaments, rehearsals, religious studies, practice, classes, competitions, meets, community service, prep courses, or sleepovers on the weekend.
5. Have a pajama day
Before summertime gets too busy, make sure there's at least one stay-at-home day, in pajamas, to relax (perhaps breakfast for dinner, too) without the pressures of the school year.
6. Set up a lemonade stand with homemade treats
A favorite activity for my kids and friends (boy or girl, any age), is to have a neighborhood lemonade stand. Children love to bake, make the lemonade, create a sign, set up a stand, and count the change. This activity is sure to last a day, and it raises money, too. Children can pick a cause and take a trip to a local charity to donate their earnings, use the earnings for a special family outing, or take a vote on how to use the proceeds of your sale!
7. Go for a family bike ride
It always seems a luxury for our entire family to get on bikes, headed for a destination. Don't let the summer go by without that family bike ride.
8. Go to a sporting event as a family
Why not go on a family outing to a baseball game this summer. Staying up late, eating hot dogs, and routing for a team together is great even for those non-athletes (myself included) who need help to understand the game. In fact, I enjoy asking my son questions about the plays.
9. Get ice cream from an ice cream truck
While the fancy yogurt and ice cream shops are great destinations, there's something special for children about running after an old-fashioned ice cream truck that's playing music as it drives through a neighborhood, picking out the rocket ship or dora pop in lieu of the salted-caramel mint chocolate chip ice cream with the homemade wafer (after all, it's not about us, right?).
10. Go to a carnival and play miniature golf
I squeezed these two outings into one (ten tips sounds better than eleven), but truly, what's the summer without a carnival and miniature golf outing? Enough said.
I hope with this plan that when September arrives (or I should say August because rudely, school keeps starting earlier), I will no longer feel relieved when my children go back to school. But I will feel satisfied that we had a fulfilling summer. I know that starting the summer by constantly refreshing my computer screen, searching vainly for a glimpse of my daughter on the camp's website, has given me a newfound love of carefree family time. But now, sigh, I must return to searching for that camp photo of my daughter, to see what I missed while writing about a meaningful summer.