Thursday, April 19, 2018

A Summer at Home

My son climbed into the barber’s chair, and as soon as the cape was fastened around his neck, he started talking.

[Side note: It tickles me that he already knows the social convention of chatting with your barber. He’s been doing it since kindergarten.]

Within minutes, they were talking about a favorite subject for both men: back yards. The barber asked my son if we have a garden.

“No, sir, but sometimes we grow stuff upside down.”

How does he remember that? He’s talking about that summer when we got a good deal on Topsy Turvies and grew bell peppers and tomatoes.

His comment just confirms one of my favorite lessons that I’ve learned as a mother: you never know what’s going to bring on the magic.

Sure, you can plan something glorious—as minor as a Saturday afternoon cupcake-decorating party to a full-blown vacation—and you may or may not get the magic. The kids may go nuts, or they may ho-hum their way through the moment. My kids are not fans of dying Easter eggs, cooking in an Easy Bake Oven, or carving pumpkins. Nope. Nary a giggle. But when I hit the print button on the plain, black-and-white Santa with circles for his beard—where you’re supposed to insert cotton balls—and hang it on the fridge? They lose their little minds.

I know that I romanticize summer. Every year, I expect magical months of bubbles, pinwheels, deep conversations, and moments worthy of a Hallmark movie. While it doesn’t exactly go like that, those memorable moments do happen—but as I’ve learned, I can’t always plan them. So how do they happen?

You spend time—lots of time—together. And then you wait.

In this season of life, all of my work is based in the home. Prior to kindergarten, we never used babysitters, childcare centers, camps, or pre-schools. My kids are used to being home a lot. And I don’t exactly have a reputation for being super structured (my husband calls me a hippie at least twice a week). But children thrive on routine, so I do my best to form loose routines and summer schedules. Here are some of the best tips I’ve found.

1. At some point during the summer, we take a family vacation to the beach—and this vacation goes against every otherwise frugal aspect of our lives. We splurge on nearly every aspect of this trip, and the pay-off is a big one. While there are other beach spots that are less costly, we’ve settled on one that’s family-oriented, security-conscious, and filled with nature (but not activities; your “activity” is to put your walking shoes on—or no shoes, praise the Lord—and go look for moments that will imprint on your mind). We’re not extreme couponers or anything, but all four of us are mindful of this trip throughout the year. It’s in the budget, and we do what we have to do to make it happen. Here’s why: my children will randomly bring up memories from that summer trip in November and February; and they also make PLANS like nobody’s business. They make vacation bucket lists, photo op lists, and lists of what they want to bring and wear. “Can we take Ritz peanut butter bits?” “I want to take my kite and run with it on the beach.” “This year, I want to eat my ice cream in a cone.” “I hope Daddy doesn’t catch another stingray, but I hope we do see a baby shark.” “When we make our sand castle, let’s pretend the helicopter is flying over it.” “Let’s go where we saw that alligator from last time!” “I still think that was an eagle we saw over there.” “Mommy, don’t let me forget to pack my mermaid panties!” (Okay, the little one is our most fashion-conscious vacationer.) These shared experiences have bonded us closer together than almost anything I can think of. We have a language about that trip that no one else understands except the four of us. Everyone is in a great mood, and conversation flows constantly. They’ll provide me with lots of funny material and great pictures for scrapbooks. Every time we tighten the finances through the rest of the year, we all know that we’re investing in memories that we haven’t made yet.

2. We make a big deal out of reading. I majored in English, and I come from a long line of bookworms. Last year, my children’s school librarian created an amazing checklist of summer reading goals—things like “read a book that your parents read as a child” and “read a book with one word as the title.” We did a few of those at home, and then we spent two afternoons at the library—but instead of checking out books, they sat there and read together to finish out their lists. The librarian did end up giving both of my children goodie bags a few weeks into the new school year, but I didn’t emphasize the “prizes.” They got satisfaction from filling in those squares. And a bonus that I didn’t see coming is that they ended up reading many of those same books throughout the following school year. They felt big and bad because they already knew those stories, and feeling big and bad is always a good thing in elementary school. And back to that yearly beach trip—when my children were younger, they would gather every board book and picture book they owned that was even remotely related to the beach or ocean (Nemo totally counts), and those went with us. A few of those still do, but now it’s a bigger deal to choose one chapter book to take along as an official “beach read.”

3. They set summer goals. My little boy started doing this the summer before he started kindergarten—totally on his own—and we all get a kick out of his lists. Some of his past goals have been to ride down a straight road super fast, taste cotton candy, catch a lightning bug without killing him (we haven’t nailed that one yet . . . that poor little fly), fly a kite on the beach, blow a giant Hubba Bubba bubble, play a drum at the music store, eat a hot dog at a baseball game with Daddy, and take the training wheels off his bike. The goals are all theirs—my only part is to provide the support (and sometimes the materials) so that they can accomplish the ones that I want them to accomplish.

4. This is my hardest one . . . but we try to stick to a routine. It’s a loose one, but at some point during each day, we need to eat at least two real meals, do some cleaning, pick up clutter, and block out times for outside, reading, workbooks, and rest. Recently, someone suggested the idea of choosing a few songs that total around fifteen minutes and then play those near the end of every day for a power clean-up/pick-up time. The idea sounds just fun enough for my children to get on board, so we’re adding it to our summer repertoire. Nothing wears a mama out like clutter all over the house.

5. Every other week, we make sure there’s some event on the calendar. One week it’s as simple as, “Mommy’s gotta go get that spot checked at the dermatologist, so Daddy is getting off early to stay with us.” If that’s not the norm, then that’s an instant party. We also have Vacation Bible School one week, and another two weeks will involve some family birthdays.

I know we’ve heard it a thousand times, but it really is true: it is not our job to entertain our children. The umbilical cord is long gone, and they are separate little humans who do (and should) have their own lives. We’re here to lead, mentor, coach, discipline, and love, love, love . . . but we’re not one-woman puppet show coordinators (well, unless you DO decide to put on a puppet show here and there, and in that case, I’d like to know when that will be so that we can come over). But I have my own summer goals too. There’s a recipe that I really want to nail. I’m about two years behind on scrapbooks. At some point, I want to re-decorate the master bedroom and overhaul the linen closet. My Sunday School class is doing I Corinthians, and I want plenty of time to study that on my own. And I wasn’t kidding about the bookworm thing . . . I have two book clubs going on this summer.
And then August will come. And one day in August, your husband will call and say that he’s working late.

It will rain all day.

The dog will be under your feet because she is certain that all that rain will kill you all.

The books will all be read. The craft projects will be done. Workbooks will be complete.

Oh—and you’ll definitely have cramps that day.

With a pure heart and a light spirit, you will hand over the remote to them, announce that dinner will be Cheerios, and you’ll head to another room with a heating pad and a different remote, calling over your shoulder, “Try to stick to PBS, y’all.”


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