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
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
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.
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
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.”