It’s officially, finally, happily SUMMERTIME! (Except on the East Coast where they prefer to keep children holed up in stuffy classrooms until nearly – literally – Independence Day. May God help those wild-eyed, desperate… teachers.)
Now I know it isn’t actually summer summer. It’s the tail end of spring. But school’s out, pools/parks/playgrounds are packed, grills are fired up and the ice cream truck is making its rounds.
I’ll take a raspberry Sno-Cone, please. I know, I know… artificial colors and corn syrup.
(That crunchy ice, though.)
Despite the fact that the same kids who’ve been whining and fussing and moaning and complaining about school have finally been released from the routines and rigors of formal education, it’ll likely only be about 10 days – give or take – before they start whining and fussing and moaning and complaining again.
Just days after the kids have emptied their cubbies/lockers/desks and ditched their backpacks/lunch sacks/socks/alarm clocks, parents will hear that dreaded refrain:
‘Tis the season.
The wearisome, exasperating, sweltering season of sunblock, bug spray, Band Aids, and… inexplicable boredom.
Mornings seem to last seventeen hours… and afternoons stretch for days. By dinnertime, Quiet, Calm, Kind and Compliant have vacated the premises. And their wicked cousins Whiny, Messy, Loud and Unruly have settled in for the evening.
If not for babysitters, central air and Advil, very few parents would survive until TFDOS. (The First Day of School… cue the Hallelujah Chorus.)
Don’t get me wrong. Boredom isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It can spark creativity, increase focus, forge friendships… and give parents good reason to assign extra chores. And while I always maintained that it wasn’t my job to be a summer camp counselor/cruise director/party planner, I didn’t want to be a total killjoy either.
Once upon a summertime, I made a list (both because I’m a compulsive list-maker and because summer always seemed to suck the creative/playful/fun right out of me) of indoor and outdoor boredom-busters. Essentially a “bucket list” of activities, adventures and outings for the preschool/primary set. When the natives got restless, I’d turn to my strategic summer survival guide for ideas – and relief. Here’s a sampling:
Backyard picnic. (Basically – lunch outside on a blanket). Amazing how a change of scenery magically distracts and delights. Bonus: no spills or crumbs on the kitchen floor.
Coloring or drawing contest… or a painting party (for those who like to live on the edge).
Wash the car, water the flowers or clean the bikes. (Who cares if the plants get watered or the car/bikes get cleaned?) Keep a stack of towels by the door.
Make your own pizza. Got mozzarella and tomato sauce? I used to buy pre-made crusts, but if you’ve got flour, olive oil and such, let little fingers knead dough for a homemade pie.
Catch fireflies. Give the kids a clear glass mayo/mason jar and send them on an early evening expedition in the backyard.
Snail mail. Write a letter or send original artwork to the grandparents or the troops.
Dance party. Create a playlist of favorites… and let ’em dress up and wear themselves out!
Lemonade stand. Proceeds to a children’s charity. (Let your kids deliver their donation.)
Photo contest. Hand over the iPhone, choose a theme (colors, nature, shapes, favorite things) and let them take 10 photos. Print and display the best photos on the frig.
Sugar cookie decorating. (Not for the faint of heart, but a tablecloth or tarp makes the frosting and sprinkles cleanup a little less daunting.)
Blanket fort or bedsheet teepee. (Climb inside and read some books by flashlight.)
Leaf prints and flower pressing. Easy, artsy, frame-worthy fun.
Ice cream-for-lunch day. (Make sure it’s a nice day, so they can “detox” from the sugar buzz outside.)
DIY project: homemade play-dough, slime, suncatchers or birdfeeders.
Busy bags. Filled with sidewalk chalk, bubbles, stickers, puzzles, glow sticks and bath toys.
Plenty of (free or inexpensive) places to go too:
Library (story time). Nature trail. Outdoor concert or theater performance. Factory tour. Farmer’s market. Fire station visit. Free movie or museum days.
Pool or water park. Pack up those floaties, sunscreen, beach towels, pool toys (including those unwieldy giant noodles), ear plugs, nose plugs, swim diapers (for heaven’s and health inspectors’ sake, please do not forget these), snacks and water bottles, swim shoes, change of clothes… Never mind. Just stay home and turn on the hose. Everyone will still get wet. And hopefully wiped out, so… naps for all. Including the parent(s).
I wryly (and somewhat wistfully) refer to 1990-2005 as the nap-and-tuck years.
Partly because I felt like I was constantly counting the minutes ’til nap time… or wishing for bedtime tuck-in. And God-willing, a little peace. (And quiet.) But also because…
Is there anything sweeter than watching your little one sleep?
Honestly, back in those rough-and-tumble, bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived, feeding/ folding/sighing/crying, cleaning-up and carting-around, daunting and desperate days, I soaked up every single sweet, snuggly, blissful and lovely moment to be had… and stored them in my heart for safekeeping. (Those little graces helped me soldier on.)
But the real game-changer/life-saver/sanity-preserver of the nap-and-tuck years was this:
Putting MYSELF on time-out.
Not. Even. Kidding.
When my strength was sapped, morale low, bedtime still hours away… and I found myself utterly emptied of kindness, compassion, patience, gentleness and anything resembling self-restraint, I’d drag myself into our closet… and lock myself in… until my agitation and aggravation subsided. (Yes, I was sometimes on mommy-time-out for an hour. And only twice did a minor catastrophe take place in my absence.)
I remember the kids staring wide-eyed the first time I informed them I was giving myself a time-out. They were stunned into relative tranquility… or maybe they were terrified? Either way, it got eerily quiet all through the house and I made a break for the stairs.
Sometimes, you just need to step away… exhale (or cry)… pray… and regroup.
And remember that (in the words of my dear mother and other sages):
“This too shall pass.”
Those really hard days will fade into distant memory. The endless summers will be a blur. And believe it or not, you’ll fondly reminisce about this. All of it. (Even the sticky fingerprints.)
You know why?
Because someday those little people are gonna grow up.
And leave you.
(Oh sure, they’ll probably come back from time-to-time – for holidays, home-cooking or a much-needed hug. And, trust me, your heart will soar when they do.)
But they will lead increasingly separate lives. Just as they should.
Just as you raised them to.
Yes, dear parents of littles, the days are excruciatingly long… but the years fly by.
And someday… you will miss this.
More than you can imagine.
P.S. If your kiddos are lucky enough to have devoted grandparents, godparents, aunts or uncles who are nearby/helpful/involved, thank the good LORD… and them. Often.