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My Kids did not Have a Magical Summer

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My husband and I were doing back and forth messages, trying to figure out when we could get the kids to the zoo. We have an amazing zoo not far from us and we have a family membership so this seems like a no-brainer family adventure. Except we’re running out of time.

School starts again soon and as I looked at the calendar and realized all the things we DIDN’T do this summer, I’m just feeling like a pretty terrible mom. In May I imagined all these evening walks to the park, trips out for ice-cream, pool parties and special outings to explore the natural wonders around us. What we’ve ended up doing is mostly just trying to survive the mass chaos of having a gaggle of kids (and neighbor kids) in and out of the house on a daily basis. I knew I was okay with the kids being bored, but I thought maybe that would happen in between all the WONDER and FUN and MAGIC that it turns out we forget to make happen.

It’s hard to plan for fun outings when you’re up to your eyeballs in laundry (WHY IS EVERYTHING WET ALL THE TIME) and granola bar wrappers. I spend so much time mediating arguments and explaining why you can’t just take the full bag of pretzel sticks to your room that I haven’t had time to think about what exciting activities we could be doing.

What we’ve actually ended up doing this summer has been a lot of hanging around the house, exploring the neighborhood and avoiding going to bed at a reasonable hour. Even when I’ve tried to get the kids excited about an outing, I’ve been inundated with whining because what they really want to do is finish the game of baseball they started in the cul-de-sac or jump on the trampoline with their friend.

And seriously, there is just a week until school starts and as of THIS MORNING I was still thinking through ideas of how to make some scheduled educational time fun for them this summer. Yeah, I think that ship has sailed. If they all forgot how to read this summer, I’m really sorry, Teachers. You guys are great and I mentally promised to help you out by keeping their skills sharp, but it just didn’t happen.

When they look back at this summer, I hope they remember it fondly. I hope they felt free and empowered to make their own plans, create their own fun, experiment with some independence. This was the summer I became an outside observer of my future fifth grader and future third grader instead of their entertainment director. I was able to spend some individual time with the little ones because the big ones were off having their own adventures. I missed them, but it also seemed like an age-appropriate use of their summer.

They stayed up until midnight watching fireworks on the Fourth of July. They biked around the neighborhood. They invented games. They played with toys I thought they had long since outgrown. They created innumerable craft projects. They helped with cooking projects and learned important life skills (like how to clean a toilet).

They also fought. All the time. So many tears. Children pitching fits and going to their rooms to be alone and reemerging to yell that one last thing about how right they were. Squabbles with neighbor kids that sometimes got resolved without adult intervention, sometimes needed help and mostly got forgotten about the next day. They had too many hours of screen time on the bad days and got sunburned on the good ones.

I hope I was a good steward of their lives this summer. I hope we did this well. My one major regret is that we didn’t make a Summer Bucket List like we’ve done the last few summers. That list would always encourage me that we were doing what was important to the kids and making time for those special memories to be made. Without that, I’ve been a little rudderless. I blame the Washington D.C. “vacation” that happened right before summer started for my lack of good summer planning. But even without that planning, I hope this was a good summer by kid standards.

And I think that’s the important part– by whose standards am I judging the success of our summer? Did we have a summer worth commemorating in a scrapbook? Probably not. Am I going to write articles for travel journals based on our adventures? Nope. Will I tell tales of our magical evenings and poetic days to my friends over our specially mixed cocktails and hear their swoons? No. But by kid standards, I think we did alright.

We completed the library summer reading program and one time we went to a baseball game and there were a couple pool trips and day camp for the big kids. It’s not Disneyland, but I have to remind myself that even when we took two of them to actual Disneyland, they were grumpy. Maybe my job is less about being sure they kept current on all their academic skills, were enriched by fancy vacations, and had magical moments, and more about helping them learn the valuable life lessons that come from boredom, resolving conflict, and having freedom.

And hopefully we’ll make it to the zoo. Eventually.

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2 Comments

  1. Yep, that’s our summer in nutshell, too! My kids are 8, 6, 3, and 5 months and we’ve done a lot of staying home and training on chores. When I start to feel guilty, I see that as a whole family, we’ve never been healthier emotionally and relationally, and I just quit thinking about all we didn’t do. Enjoy the last week of your summer!

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