May 1, 2015

Thinking Ahead to Summer With My Kids

On the first day of this school year, I wrote the post below and entitled it "What I Want to Remember Next Summer". I dusted it off this morning in preparation for our fast-approaching summer, mainly to remind myself of all the great things summer gifted us last year and to anticipate what this summer has in store. 

Our family had a truly great summer this year. We collectively hiked Humpback Rock on the Blue Ridge, spent a June day at the beach with a friend, caught a turtle and frogs and fireflies, saw friends and family in Texas, made stop-action movies with Legos, enjoyed a 70 degree July 4th, spent lazy days at the pool, and celebrated a milestone birthday with square dancing, pecan pie, and Bluebell. There were books, there were friends, there were late nights, and there were slow-start mornings. In other words, there were all the things that make summer so good.
But in May, just as I do every year, I looked ahead to the summer season with a mix of apprehension and relief. Relief because we don't have to rush from the moment the alarm beeps, and because summer in Virginia means great weather (even greater this year!) and lots of outdoor activities after cold winter days. But there is also always the apprehension: what we will do with all that unstructured time? Will I have the patience and energy that I need not just to entertain my kids but to enjoy them as well? And how I will get anything at all done?

As I write this, my kids are knee deep in their first day of school. I'm looking back at the summer with a little bit of nostalgia (especially when the alarm went off at 6 am), but I also feel a sense of accomplishment. We did it! We sucked the marrow out of summer, and it was wonderful.

I want to remember this feeling so that when May comes around next year and summer is fast approaching, I will have only eager anticipation at the joy we have ahead. Here's what I want to remember for next summer:

Linger
Summer means some daily routines are made to be broken. Sleep a little later. Let the kids stay up a little later to catch the fireflies that only power up at 9 pm. Leave the kids in their rooms a little longer in the morning to linger over Scripture with the Lord. Linger with friends. Summer was made for relationships.

Stop Producing
Because summer is made for relationships, the kids are the priority, not tasks. So what if the ring around the toilet has been there for weeks? So what if the kids are a constant swirl of mess? So what if the blog goes dormant? So what if you can't return emails quickly? You are not your production. In fact, you need intense time to be taught and renewed by the Lord. Summer gives that.

Remember Winter
There will be days six months from now when it will be dark at 4:30 pm, it'll be cold and dreary, and everyone will be hibernating inside. Now is not that time, so get outside. Plan outings and simple family adventures. Swim, walk, ride bikes, and sit outside for dinner. Those memories will warm you in the dead of winter.

Boys Will Be Boys
And boys like read-alouds and trips to the library too. Plan in time to pile on the couch with a book, and plan room time for individual reading. (Our favorite book this summer: Wonder by R.J. Palacio)

Legos Come Apart
Those Lego sets that sit proudly displayed on shelves gathering dust? They come apart and also come with instructions, which makes for a perfect rainy day activity. Pick a set to take apart, sort by color, and rebuild.

Teach New Things
Summer days stretch out long. Use the plethora of down time to teach new skills, such as how to ride a bike, unload the dishwasher, mow the yard, sort the laundry, how to bake, or how to write and make books on the iPad.

A Little Structure Goes a Long Way
It's good to ease up on the structure kept during the school year, but it's also good to keep a little structure in each day during the summer. Let the kids take turns planning "their" day using given building blocks. Let them sign up for short term activities that fit their interests.

A Little Separation Goes a Long Way
Everyone goes a little bit nutty when they're with the same people all day every day. Facilitate family time, but also give them time for different activities. Employ room time for separation, quiet, and rest. Facilitate time with their individual friends.

Find Reasons to Celebrate
Summer itself is enough reason to celebrate. It gives us many an excuse to gather with friends, make homemade ice cream, swim, and play outside. Cultivate the joy of simply being alive and being together. Most importantly, cultivate the joy of being with the kids. These are the days.

As I wrote this list and thought back over summer, I realized pretty quickly that these are lessons that take me into the fall. Certainly, the season is different than summer, being full with school and homework and activities. But I can continue to cultivate what the summer wrought, the joy of being alive and being with my kids. These are the days.