Simplified Summer

Carla: Clearly, Caryn and I are terrible bloggers. We haven’t given up this blog, but we have both been up to our ears in this and that and the other thing. I’ll let Caryn tell you all about her upcoming book and her writers guild and all of her other exciting projects and just say that I have been working hard to clear my plate with the goal of having just one job by the fall. I’m tired of missing appointments and losing track of papers and living in a constant state of panic that I’ve forgotten someone’s band concert. So I am slowly whittling down my list of commitments so I can focus on those that actually bring me some joy–like this blog and book ideas and teaching.

In the spirit of simplifying my life, I thought I’d bounce around some ideas about how a person might do that, especially in the summer. When I was growing up, summer was nothing if not lazy. It might not have been that way for my parents, but it sure was for me and my brother. I was signed up for a handful of activities–camp, softball, ushering at the summer theater in town, the odd tennis lesson or three–but for the most part, my time was unstructured. And that, I have discovered, was a gift.

So as we enter the summer void here at the Barnhill house, I am trying to keep our calendar low on plans and high on free time. That has meant a lot of saying no, something that doesn’t come naturally for me but that I find to be terrifically rewarding.

Here’s what I’m saying no to:

  • Any camp or lesson or commitment that takes up more than a week of our time. Summer is precious and I refuse to let it get sucked up my the park and rec schedule. If summer’s past are any indication, we will be plenty busy without some external calendar dictating what we do and when we do it. I am finding that as we move into the high school years, however, this gets trickier, so I would love to hear from those of you with teenagers and find out how you keep the schedule of sports camps and practices and part-time jobs from stealing your life away.
  • Any activity that involves one person doing something that the rest of us have to watch for more than an hour. This includes fishing. This doesn’t mean that the fisherperson in our family can’t go fishing. It means we are not all getting in the boat in the name of togetherness. It also means that if child #2 has a baseball game, child #1 and child #3 are not required to sit in the stands and watch the whole thing. It also means that we’ve had to do some thinking about what a particular activity might entail for the rest of us. If one person’s commitments mean the whole family is held hostage to that commitment, we think long and hard about whether it’s worth it. It’s usually not.
  • Anything on a Wednesday. For me, a Wednesday commitment makes the rest of the week feel like a wash. For you, it might be Friday or Tuesday. But for me, when Wednesday is booked, I feel like we’ve lost the week. That doesn’t mean we don’t do anything on Wednesdays. It means we don’t commit to anything on a Wednesday. No appointments, no lunch dates, no lessons.

But we are not just people of “no.” We say yes to summer with a few other guiding principles:

  • Each child gets to pick one super fantastic thing to do during the summer and we decide the rest. It is their vacation after all, so we try to let each of our kids choose a big whoopty thing that we will do together–a waterpark, an amusement park, the zoo, a day trip. Even if we just get those three things on the calendar, it feels like we have something to look forward to.
  • Remember that even if you signed up for something, it’s your life and you can miss a class or two if you want to. You spent the money whether your child is there every day or not, so if some great option comes along, say yes and skip the tennis lesson or the pottery class or whatever it is you have on deck that day. It’s your life and you are not beholden to someone else’s schedule. That’s what the school year is for :).
  • Boredom is a kids best friend. Seriously, there is new-ish research that suggests that the brain needs downtime to process information and cast a vision for the future. In other words, if you want your child to think big thoughts, you’ve got to give her brain time to do that. And nothing gives the brain space and time like boredom. So when you’re child tells you she’s bored, remember that this isn’t a problem that needs a solution.
As I say all of this, please keep in mind this very important caveat: My husband is a teacher, which means that a) we rarely go anywhere during the school year. Summer is our time to travel and relax and be spontaneous and we are very protective of that time. It also means that b) we have two parents at home with flexible schedules and we are fully aware that this is a rare and precious gift that not everyone has.
That said, I think that most families–whether you have one parent at home, no parents at home, three kids, nine kids, lots of money, no money–can find ways to make summer a little more relaxed.
So let’s hear it! What helps you keep summer simple?

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Linda Karau on June 6, 2011 at 11:23 am

    Carla, As a Grandma, I find that I try to leave certain days open for my Granddaughter and I to have a chance to do some of the same things you mentioned as a Mom. When we had 4 children we never made alot of committments for summer, except for a Family Camping adventure or 2. Later when the kids were in highschool, they learned the fast way that jobs ate up their time and so did we. Unforotunately, we needed to let them learn that so there were some not so great summers–but each child was given the grace to make a bad choice and then to undo it later o if they could without damaging their rep or job histories. Each one did take some down time before becoming college students on a budget!!! We had less classes and more library, less structure and more let’s just get in the car or on a bike and go to the park, the pool, the picnic, etc. Their friends were allowed to chill at our house and we often had overnite extravaganzas wih 3 or more extra kids for aa day or 2 and boy, that was wild but crazy and good for meories now!! I loved it when they were finally so tired they crashed and slept for a good long while…because then I saw that angelic face(s) and I felt so good inside knowing that they were mine and that we had done good! Thats all for now, and have a great summer!!!!!


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