The first step in making summer fun is a huge one, and it’s backing away from that goal. It’s the declaration that we have incredibly high, exceedingly out of reach goals for that little gap of time between May and September. Most of the parents I know are staring hard at that line in the sand (usually more sandbox than the coastal variety) and trying to size up their tribe before committing to one.
On one side, there is an admirable army, those who have researched and planned an action packed summer. They have firsthand knowledge of the best place to view fireworks in Frankfurt, when to rent an RV in Reno and where see the best craft fairs in Kansas City. These parents come back to work with hand crafted sea shell framed photos of their brood, smiling from sailing camp in Nantucket, from snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef, from their stint at sheep herding in New Zealand. They have maximized each of their vacation days to accomplish something fabulous. Even a day of rest includes cryotherapy to rejuvenate or a stop in to a salt suite for a quick lung balancing session. They have, in their possession, tangible evidence of having had a very fun summer.
Sometimes I think that I want to be just like them. This is why I occasionally buy rompers, for that time I imagine we rent bikes to explore a cobblestoned village in Europe. Ditto to the vintage pink Key West caftan I thought would look stunning in Cozumel. The romper taunts me every time I open my pajama drawer; at least the caftan was worn a few times. Until I ripped it almost in two when it caught on the knob of my bathroom drawer – the Diet Coke Lime in my hand being the closest thing to a tropical get away it saw while in my possession.
On the other side of this parenting divide are the parents who practices modified cryotherapy by lowering the air conditioning (while keenly aware of how old the unit is and what the electric bill will reflect) and salt therapy by adding a handful of Epsom Salts to the kids’ bath before bedtime. The reasons are varied. Sometimes it’s financial limitations, sometimes it is resenting the title of activity director and sometimes it’s both of those things. Lucky for these folks there are tons of resources for how to have LOADS of FUN on the cheap. There are some unusual requirements however. Might I suggest using the rolling hills in your yard as a water slide? Simply lay Visqueen on top of said hills and attach a water hose, taking care to pool the extra material at the end to ensure a splashy landing. Oh, you live in Florida? So, like, maybe no hills? You are worried about possible third degree burns if skin connects with Polyethylene that has been in the sun for sixty seconds or more? Good call and excellent parenting, in fact.
No big deal, just make bird feeders! Gather pinecones, and prepare yourself for multiple objections and random facts that have nothing to do with birdfeeders (not that one, it’s dirty), (Not that one either, Dad! It has a broken petal. Or is it a scale? Is a pinecone a fish?). You will also need peanut butter and birdseed. Bird seed selection is tricky because the cheap birdseed will likely be deemed, “Not birdseed-y enough”. Side note, if you ask for further explanation of this statement from the six and under set, you may be met with sobs and the exasperated notation that “No one gets whatever I am saying about” – (not a typo, a direct quote). I know you are exhausted by reading this, but if you gathered your supplies, your peanut butter is almost liquefied at this point and you will still need to get the pinecones covered in it. Also, if this peanut buttered pinecone drops on the ground and gets dirty prior to the birdseed step, this is where all the lessons you have imparted on hygiene will be enacted. The same child who will pick up a gusher that they’ve dropped on the cafeteria floor and consume it before it can be wrestled away from her will not spare you the horror at your suggestion that birds won’t mind the blade of grass, or stray dog hair. Okay so birdfeeders are out too.
Now for the practical advice; if you want to have fun this summer, start by cutting yourself some slack. Rome wasn’t built in a day (and if you ask the families who visited Rome this summer they will tell you it wasn’t enjoyed in its entirety in one day either). Slow down. If you need help getting the kids to slow down, announce that today’s theme will be “helping Mom clean out the fridge day” then ask for volunteers in wiping the condiments down before they are replaced – and see how slowly they go. Build something together, be it a birdhouse or a library or even a bridge to forgiveness when you have lost your temper or your car in the parking lot. Tell stories. Watch movies. Borrow books from the library. Write letters to someone. And send them. With a stamp. In the mail. The thing about kids is they remember it as having been fun, even when we as parents “know better”.
You will recollect “The time you tried to teach the kids to play basketball” by how much you sweat, how the ball rolled into the road eleven times and how Daddy (on traffic patrol) yelled at the sixth driver to speed down your street, “Slow down (expletive)”! Your kids will hear this incorrectly and for years afterward they will wonder how Daddy knew that guy’s name was Russell…When you recall being a capital F Failure for not planning ahead and advance ordering a DVD that your kids were dying to see, they will never forget “The night we got to go swimming in our pajamas”.
So if you find yourself toeing that line in the sand, do us all a favor. Encourage both sides to join hands in one messy game of Red Rover. Because outdoor games are best when played in the summertime with reckless abandon and we really are all on the same team. If you aren’t dressed appropriately, no worries, I have the perfect romper set aside just for you to borrow, I’m glad I saved it.