06/01/2015 07:01 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Art of Noticing

This summer, my kids are 2, 4 and 6 years old. This summer, instead of signing up the olders for so many things that sound amazing but force me to drag my youngest to everywhere they have to be, we are going to chill out. This summer, I am going to notice my children as they notice the world in the timeframe of summer -- when the days are long and the schedule is gone.

We aren't going to rush anywhere; we're going to ride bikes whenever we can, whenever they want, whenever I want -- to the pool, the library, the grocery store, the ice cream store. We're going to slow down or, more honestly, I am going to slow down to their speed. There is no camp or class or lesson that is as important to me as what comes when my children go outside to play. Neighborhood kids come over and, soon, a group of kids are playing and creating something that could last all afternoon. They didn't need a camp counselor or any tools or toys but what they scavenged from all of the houses on our block -- a collective garage thrifting, if you will, including the sweet fifth grader whom they begged to lead their troop of Lost Boys and Girls. Fifth grade girls are the best Peter Pan-ers out there: they mingle between the grown-up world, but they play with children as if they will stay child-like forever. They are a mother of young children's best friend.


I took this picture on one of the first warmer-than-65-degree days in Chicagoland. This summer, I plan on spending a lot of time doing what this picture illustrates for me. If you're from a moderate climate, let me first explain something: When you get the first warmish day in Chicagoland, you try to do everything summer-y in that one day because you are overly excited.

On this day, these children started remembering our go-tos for summertime. "Can we go to the lake? Have a picnic with our friends? Go swimming? Put up the water slide bounce house? Get an ice cream?" Not one of the things they asked for involved rushing to a designated class at a designated time. We did the Day One Version of Summer on this day: the sprinkler with our friends, which resulted in muddy puddles in our backyard, which led to this photo, which made me realize how I'd like to spend summer with my kids.

Two of the three in this picture are so fully in the moment that their faces are blurred. They're a wonderful mess, of course -- wet and muddy in clothes that I didn't even know we owned and that don't quite fit. And the baby, well, look at him. He's all, "I don't even know why I'm happy, but I am! And I'm holding my sister's shoes! And I'm so happy about it!"

This summer, I plan on putting on the sprinkler even if it means working to find the hose that's buried under snow shovels and tangling that sucker to get it to where we need it to go. I plan on working to find swimsuits day after day. I plan on having so much fun in proverbial small mud puddles. I will be holding someone's shoes or coat or towel or little toy that they HAD to bring with them.

I plan on getting dirty. I plan on having my thighs touch, a swim suit that doesn't hide every last flaw because burqas are really not my style, and being OK with having all of that on display when I'm at the pool or at the beach. I plan on having fun just because I am noticing the others having fun around me. I'm going to notice what brings them joy and see if I can find the same there. I'm going to notice who I'm around when I feel my best. I'm going to keep moving each day, sweating, too. I'm going to notice when we need a day to ourselves.

I plan on saying yes to every sort of thing that is equivalent to noticing how mud feels underneath our feet on the first nice day in spring. I plan not to wait for "the right time" to get out the sprinkler or the water slide bounce house or any other thing that involves a little work on the front end, but all free play, or what in any decade pre-1990 we just called "play," on the back end. I plan to notice all of the amazing things that summer is when you're 2. And also when you're 4. And when you're 6 as well.

They can make fun out of mud puddles of the smallest circumference if left to their own devices. They make you notice things that you'd otherwise miss. They, when given the chance to be and do as they please without rushing, shoot more life into any scenario -- more laughing, more crying, more seeing, more doing, more breathing, more moving, which means when you are with them, you, too, get more life, you notice more life, you are more alive. Exhausted at times, certainly, but that is just the price of living fully.

For us, this is going to be the summer of noticing all that they do and all that they teach us to notice because they haven't yet forgotten how to notice life. I'll notice that this is the only summer I get with them at these ages at this time doing these things.

This is the class I am signing my family up for this summer: The Art of Noticing. It's follow-up courses are The Art of Finding Joy, The Art of Being Grateful and Boredom is for Boring People. The Art of Noticing is the pre-req, though, so we are starting there. Its bullet points on the class outline are Life is Not A Race, They're Only Little Once and Yelling "Hurry Up!" Everyday Is Annoying to Everyone. And -- surprise! -- the youngest amongst us is usually the professor.

I'll take pictures of those moments when I notice the joie de vivre they bring to the whole wide world so that I can borrow it when I need to. For all of the seasons to come.