Hi Mom, It’s Me, Summer. You Ready?
Once upon a time, I agreed to watch my niece and nephew for an entire summer, giving me sole charge of 5 children, ages 7, 6, 5, 2 and 1 from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm. I thought it sounded magical; cousins playing in the backyard together, catching ladybugs and running through sprinklers, making lasting memories to cherish forever.
As a competent mother of three, I had the ability to whip together P.B. and J.’s while simultaneously refereeing squabbling siblings, answering the door for the UPS man and cleaning finger paint off the kitchen floor. It was a tricky dance, but I’d mastered it. Bring on two more!
I’d forgotten one tiny detail: Caring for 5 little people with 9 hours of unstructured daylight staring me in the face made my heart race and gave me a small panic attack as the first day of summer loomed. How would I fill the endless hours?
My natural bent is toward order, structure, and plans. And boy did I take it up a notch that summer.
I know what you’re thinking. That’s what summer vacation is for! Time for kids to explore, create, lay on the grass and stare at shapes in the clouds. It’s a time for freedom and wonder. I know.
The fact that these kids were fairly young (two in diapers!) did not deter me from imposing a pretty strict schedule, which I considered the only path to my sanity.
Sometimes I want so badly to be the kind of Easy-Breezy mom who rolls with whatever the day brings. Up for anything. However, I am not wired that way, so I busted out the white board, complete with face magnets so everyone could clearly identify their “buddy of the day”. Less work for me, I thought.
Your buddy can push you in your plastic car and hold your hand across the street. I can kick my feet up on the lounge chair.
Looking back, I feel a teensy bit of guilt for making the 5, 6 and 7-year-olds find a quiet part of the yard during the little ones’ naptime and silently journal for about 20 minutes when they might have liked to be catching frogs. Nevermind that two of them hadn’t started Kindergarten yet. I had thoughtfully picked out colorful journals at Target and they would get used.
And don’t even think about wandering into the pantry for Goldfish between breakfast and snack time. Everything. At. The. Proper. Time.
Oh, you want to ride bikes? Sorry, you’ll have to wait for free time. You want to chase dragonflies with your butterfly net? Only between 2:00-4:00 pm.
There is, however, one place I can truly relax and let the hours pass while freely letting kids explore without looking at the time or thinking about what’s next on the agenda:
And so, we frequented the beach that summer, as much for the kids’ sake as my own. Skipping rocks, finding crabs and getting terribly muddy. Nowhere else do I feel as close to being Easy-Breezy Mom. Handing out snacks and juice boxes on request, jumping right in, tide pooling with the kids.
Back at home, however, I shifted right back to Mind-the-Schedule Mom, and the kids knew they had better clean up quickly and gather around attentively for the read-aloud selection of the afternoon.
Despite my over-the-top attempt at controlling the chaos, we really had a fantastic summer because even carefully orchestrated cousin-time is better than none.
This year, my kids are a bit older, but the pull to micro-manage is just as strong. I have an even bigger whiteboard and I’m not afraid to use the dry-erase markers to draft up a nifty chore/activity/reading chart.
The good news for my children, you’ll be glad to hear, is that they have an Easy-Breezy Dad who refuses to micro-manage, pushes for their independence and is always up for a spontaneous ice cream run. The yin to my yang.
How about you?
Are you an Easy-Breezy Summer Mom, the kind I envy, forgoing structure in favor of whatever the day brings?
Or are you like me, a Mind-the-Schedule Mom, who heads to the public library to sign the kids up for the summer reading program the day after school ends and requires daily infrastructure for survival?
I’d like to land somewhere in the middle this year, shooting more for a rhythm than a schedule. Open to the spontaneous creation of a lemonade stand, but not afraid to bust out a Summer Bridge workbook if I sense brains going to mush. And I’m so grateful to live near the beach, where we can all relax and rejuvenate in the salty air.
And I keep this picture of my daughter as a reminder:
That no matter which way you lean, if you put in any effort at all, your kids are bound to make magical memories and possibly even declare it the Best. Summer. Ever.
Because if being a mom has taught me anything, no matter how much you try to control the days, the most special moments in childhood are rarely planned and will ooze out the cracks of even the Most-Scheduled-Mom’s itinerary.
So, here’s to summer: To running through sprinklers. To picking blackberries. To riding bikes. To late night bonfires. To lazy mornings. And yes, also to journaling and read-alouds.
Happy Summer, Mommas!