We are entering week two of summer vacation, and I have already had to run away from home once because the kids were driving me (and each other) crazy. Thank God I have a teenager who can cover for me in moments like these!
Overall, though, it has been a good first week, and I am looking forward to what this summer will bring. Did you catch that? I don’t have this summer all planned out; I have left a lot of room spontaneity. I may regret the decision to not send my kids to a bunch of camps and activities all summer long, but right now I am thinking that this might be one of our best summers yet. By simplifying our schedule, I believe I am opening the door for extraordinary opportunities.
For me, simplifying summer looks like a fine balance of structure and freedom. Our kids do have to work this summer. Their dad is all about “work first.” Work is what pays for the fun, he explains to them over and over, but I don’t know if they’ve quite made the connection yet. This summer should help with that.
To this end, I have created a checklist of housekeeping responsibilities for the children to perform each day. They include things like: emptying/reloading dishwasher, watering/weeding garden areas, doing laundry, making a weekly meal, etc.
I am also putting together project-based duties, which they will randomly draw from a glass bowl. Things like: wiping down doors and walls, dusting corners and ceilings for cobwebs, etc. You know, all of those things you barely notice as you are rushing about until you finally do notice them, and then you can’t stop noticing them.
Finally, they all have personal responsibilities: brushing teeth, taking care of dishes, putting clothes away, making beds, etc.
None of this work is paid for, by the way; it is all part of caring for the home they live in and use. Mowing the lawn, cleaning paint brushes, and other outdoor projects (my husband runs a construction company) are paid jobs.
I am trying to fit their assigned work around their camp/activity schedules. For example, this week one son has basketball camp from 8-11a.m., so I’m not going to put him on A.M. Kitchen Duty because he won’t be home then.
All of this structured activity should take about an hour, accompanied by 30 minutes of mental work (some math or writing exercises to keep their brains intact for the fall).
Then, they can experience freedom. I purposely only scheduled our kids for camps in June, with the exception of Music & Drama camp, which they will all attend, giving me a much needed 6-hour/day break for a week at the end of July. My oldest son is signed up for a sand volleyball camp that runs all summer but does not have mandatory attendance, and my 12-year old son finishes up baseball the second week of July. So, we have nearly six weeks of summer wide open.
Writing that last sentence terrifies me a little, I have to admit, but it also excites me. Those six weeks will allow us time to dream, play, relax, and maybe even go on an adventure or two (i.e. travel). We can swim at the pool or beach when it’s hot, read a bunch of books (I will be using Tsh Oxenreider’s free Summer Reading Guide For Kids as a springboard for my kids’ book selections this year), visit parks, play in the backyard with friends, visit family, and tour museums on free days. Not only simple, but also free (or cheap). You can see more great ideas for a simple summer here.
The last thing I want for my summer is to play chaperone every day, driving five kids to all of their fun activities while I cook and clean up after them. I want to have fun too, and now that I have a child heading to high school this fall, I am beginning to realize how little time is left to have fun with all of my kids. I have squandered so much of my time with them, being distracted by to-do’s and social media. I want to see their faces light up, rejoice at the sound of their giggles, tell them silly jokes, dance with them in the car and the kitchen, invite them to make meals with me, take after dinner strolls with them. My fondest childhood memories with my mom are of taking walks together and rolling down hills at the park.
My son surprised me the other day when he said, “You always laugh so much when you talk with your friends.” Implicit in his comment was the observation that I don’t laugh so much with my kids. I yell at, nag, ignore, and command them, but rarely do I laugh with them. My friends see me as fun and crazy; I want my kids to know that side of me, too. I am working on loosening up a bit, and saying silly, inappropriate things just to surprise and delight them.
This morning, my friend’s son moaned, “I’m hot. It’s so hot out here.” To which she replied, “Hey, Chuck-o, there will be no complaining about the heat in Wisconsin because we have nine months of winter here.” Summer is a special, fleeting time for us Northerners, and we have to make the most of it. But that doesn’t have to include packing our schedules full of commitments and expensive activities. There is something to be said for an undemanding, easy-going summer, savoring its lush beauty and birdsong, and creating simple, beautiful memories with loved ones.
How will you simplify your summer?