08/24/2012 12:23 pm ET Updated Oct 24, 2012

Our Summer of Self-Sufficiency

It seems like the last day of school was just yesterday, with summer stretching out before us, promising sunny days and starry nights. And, much to our children's dismay, my personal promise that this was to be the "DIY Summer" -- the summer they learned to be more self-sufficient. To "do it self" as they strived to during the "terrible twos" and seemingly outgrew by the tender ages of 3, 5, and 7.

Given our lofty ambitions, it only seems right to report back on our success... or lack thereof.
One of our intentions was routine enforcement of a "Carry In/Carry Out" policy -- inspired by the national parks and implemented in our minivan which, as summer dawned, was unfortunately filled with several sippy cups of curdled milk, a hundred homeless Cheerios, a bevy of battered books and a slew of smelly soccer socks. We cleaned it out, spiffed it up and promised our faithful "swagger wagon" that we would dutifully carry out all that we carried in; we threatened our children with fines and the loss of their prized possessions if they were left to fester in the car. So how did we do? Not very well. On a scale of one to 10, we deserve a zero.

If you were to take a peek today, you would see that our faithful minivan is brimming over with melted crayons (which look cool in a Jackson Pollock kind of a way on the leather seats), the "artwork" created on several long rides to the beach and back, empty water bottles, fruit snacks that appear forever attached to the floor mats, a few grilled cheese crusts and, from my estimation, at least 50 pounds of sand. And that's not all. If you were to look in the front seat, you'd find that I am perhaps the worst offender. You see, when I am in the passenger seat, I nag. I can create "honey do" lists for hours on end if I'm not kept occupied while my husband is driving. So, my husband has learned to occupy me. Whenever we get into the car, he makes sure I bring a sizable stack of magazines and catalogs so that our conversations gravitate toward "Wow, did you know that if you're going to buy organic, you should really buy x, y, z," instead of "Wow, you STILL didn't do x, y, z?!" All of those magazines are still in the minivan. So, if we were to assess our success with "Carry In/Carry Out" on a pass/fail basis, we would fail. With a capital F!

Our other self-sufficient aspirations focused on having our children take on more responsibility at home -- to routinely pick up, clean up, and even pack up for our weekends away. We fared far better with this initiative than with the mayhem in the minivan. Our 5- and 7-year-old have become masters at making their beds and our trio of 3-year-olds love to wake up and tell me "Look Ma, my bed's made!" Although, many times, they've slept on top of the covers so I'm not sure that counts, even though their intentions are good.

All five kids have gotten much better at putting dirty laundry in the basket, dirty dishes in the dishwasher and cleaning up their toys at the end of the day. They truly have become more self-sufficient in many regards and undoubtedly deserve a "Pass" -- with a capital P... for Proud Parent!

If I decided to take a more introspective look at our "DIY Summer," I would have to admit that I can be an impediment to our children's self-sufficiency. It's hard for me to accept "their" way of doing things. After all, no one can make "hospital corners" like I can or load the dishwasher just so. And, while the kids were keen to pack their own bags for our weekends away, I couldn't resist double-checking, counting the underwear and making sure there was at least one cute, matching outfit included. Am I a bit compulsive? Kind of a perfectionist? Yes. But, in some instances, it serves me -- and them -- well. For example, I think our 7-year-old would have been really bummed out if he had nothing but baseball cards and a Yankees shirt for four days at the beach, so I'm pretty sure that my inclusion of a few bathing suits was a good thing.

Overall, our family made great strides during this summer of self-sufficiency. And, with a new school year about to start, it's only fitting to recognize that I still have a lot to learn. I need to learn how to let go, to accept that my way isn't the only way and to recognize that when you allow your kids to "do it self," they are bound to make mistakes -- just like I do as I build my own mountain of magazines in the front of the minivan!