For me, childhood summers were carefree.
They were run wild in the neighborhood, stay out till the dinner-bell rang kind of carefree.
They were filled with all the neighbor kids playing kick-the-can in our backyard and popsicles melting on our chins down to our toes, picnic lunches in a sheet fort outside.
There were weekends at the Lake filled with water-ski shows and tubing behind the boat, complete with cherry-pit spitting contests with cousins.
As far as I know, my parents didn’t plan a single thing for any of their kids and it was perfect. My parents may say otherwise, but I don’t remember much happening outside of us doing whatever we wanted in the summer.
Fast forward 30 years and here I stand with a grade-schooler, a toddler and a full summer schedule looking nothing like the calendar we had growing up. I don’t even remember if we had a calendar. But why? I love carefree summers. I love being lax on bedtimes and schedules and life. I work full time and have the summers off- I deserve to forget if I served lunch or not (at least the bigger one knows how to make a sandwich on his own).
And my kids deserve to have nothing to do. They shouldn’t be doing homework or thinking about where to go. They should be able to spend endless hours in the treehouse with friends getting sweaty from hours of playing in the heat. There should be blow up kiddie pools in the backyard and permanent access to bubbles and chalk. They should experience boredom and adventures and the freedom that the school year tends to rob them of. And my desire to plan a schedule should not get in the way of any of that.
And you know what? In all the years past, this is how our summers went.
Well, after experimenting a few years with the notion that I love my kids too much to not want to be with them all summer long, I discovered that my children don’t necessarily function best this way. I’ve learned, especially thanks to our eldest, that they function best when they have a schedule and routine…and I am not the best at providing that on my own. I wish I was, but I’ve learned that I am not.
I’ve learned that if we have something to get up for each morning, we move through the day in a much happier way. And I’ve learned that planning camps and other classes does not mean we don’t get to have the freedom that summer provides- it’s just for part of the day, not the full day. And so far those half days of unstructured time have proven to be much more enjoyable than a full day used to be. Trust me, we still have our fair share of lazy summer (half) days.
So, that means my kids will have sports camps and community ed classes and swimming lessons and VBS and playdates and, yes, even tutoring this summer. It also means more driving kids around and making fancy child-legible calendars so we’re all on the same page. And as we quickly learned, it also means spending a little more money here or there. But it’s been worth it.
And please know that my children do know how to function in unplanned spaces. They just function at their best when there’s a routine. I am not a planner by nature and much prefer to just go through life without knowing what comes next. I am very good at following my feelings and cancelling plans! However, my oldest is at the age when predictability is helpful to him in managing his days. When he knows what’s expected, he feels better (we probably do, too, if you think about it). And I’ve decided we should respect that part of who he is, and if that means I plan a little more this summer, then I’ll do it.
I do sometimes miss the carefree mornings of sitting on the back porch with my little guy swinging on the swing set as I sip my coffee. But when two o’clock rolls around and we haven’t had a melt down because our day has a plan and routine and our entire family functions better in that space, I remember why I scheduled that early morning soccer camp this week. And on the week that nothing’s planned and I’ve also noticed more arguments and struggles? I’m grateful to see that Pokemon camp is on the calendar next week!
And in doing so, we get to enjoy our free-time with less meltdowns and more calm, and my grade-schooler feels more prepared to reenter the routine of the school year when the time comes. And I’m okay with that!