Year-end concerts and award banquets and school projects abound. The days are winding down and summer is almost here. While some mommas are eagerly awaiting the beginning of summer, others are taking deep breaths to stave off the ensuing panic that comes in anticipating over 100 days of unstructured home life, children underfoot.
Where do you stand?
As I sit here today in my quiet home, I am deeply aware that, though I love this daily down-time, it is a privilege that is passing. In roughly two and a half weeks, my children will come out of school with mixed feelings and summer will begin. We will dry off last-day-tears and head to a local park where summer always begins for us. We will gather with friends, eat some lunch, enjoy the distraction from a day of good-byes and stand together at the beginning of a long string of time to come. I love having my kids home. I love the peace that comes with plenty of rest and a lack of pressing deadlines. But, 16 years of parenting has taught me that sleepy summer days can be rocky, too. Because the truth is that I love my quiet, writing afternoons and my children love their structure. So, while we dream today of some summer fantasy, it will likely not be that vision that plays out for us.
So, what do we do?
Last week, I decided to add a new talk to my topic list on this very thing. I am excited to be thinking about summer as I prepare to speak on this for Spring '14. For years, our family has approached summer planning in a way that offers some structure and lots of downtime while offering parameters that can curtail known frustrations. Left to their own devices, my children will happily spend way too much time on screens playing video games or watching televisions programs that can only be described as "brain-candy". This, I do not want. But, if I spend a few minutes thinking about what goals I have for my kids, maybe the summer can take on a shape that fits for our whole family.
Here are some of the goals we have for our kids each year:
1. Keep moving academically. Yes, I totally get that school is over but as a former educator, I know that kids who continue to learn academically throughout the summer begin to see learning as a lifestyle and not a school requirement. I do not want my children to tolerate academics. I want to raise kids who are curious, eager, driven. I want them to love the "a-ha" moments and to seek them instead of waiting to have those revelations spoon fed to them. If we take the summer off of learning, we do not only lose what has been learned this year but we miss an opportunity to raise kids who see each day as an opportunity to seek knowledge and to explore God's creation.
2. Work on needed/wanted skills and talents. With the full and busy school-year schedule, it is hard for us to find time to really focus on things that are of interest to my kids. The summer allows for time to work on soccer skills, take a drama class or head off to a Christian camp and learn a lot of amazing things all at once! Over the years, we have really valued these experiences and have worked hard to budget for them. In addition to this, I will dust off my teacher hat and work up "lessons" that might be helpful to my kids in a variety of areas.
3. Extended family time. There is no way around it. My oldest is 16. I am staring down the end of our familiar life with four kids and I am deeply aware that in two years, my days with my baby will be drastically changed. We need this time. It may not be as idyllic as I would hope but it is needed for both my kids and myself. The chaos has a part to play and the spontaneous experiences that poke up out of nowhere become the stuff of family lore. We need it. Unplanned. Open. Available. And we need to plan for time when we get away and there is no interruption in the midst of this passing privilege.
4. Lifestyle learning. When we worked as residence directors at Trinity Christian College, we offered a curriculum of lifestyle lessons to freshman and sophomore students. My kids need nothing less. They need to learn basic skills like conflict resolution, living in community, household chores, etc... The summer offers us the opportunity to focus on such things and teach them well. As mommas, we are the experts on our kids. You know exactly what they are great at and in what areas they need growth. Three months of downtime can lead to an awful lot of learning!
5. Fun, fun, fun!!! We need to find space for fun. We need to laugh and relax and do unusual things and let it unwind the tightly wound springs that the school year has placed in my kids. We need to use the time we have in ways that September will not allow. We need to get away and we need to stay put. And while so much of this can seem spendy, there are ways to have a lot of fun without spending much money at all.
While I have many mini-goals for my kids, much of what we do for the summer falls under these general categories. Finding ways to plan for the things we want for our kids helps to offer structure to all those loosey-goosey days. This gives me hope that the summer that is coming can have moments in it that feel exactly like what we want. It makes me believe that the images in my head might come to fruition. And maybe I will have to hunt for those moments or maybe they will rise up and make themselves well-known. Either way, we will make space for summer to become what we need. All the days will not be good. All the weeks will not be perfect. My kids will argue. The house will begin to feel small. We will miss some goals and we will over-focus on others. But in the end, it will be what we make of it and that, my friends, takes a plan.
Over the next several posts, lets take a peek at each of the categories above. I will tell you what we might do and maybe you will share some ideas, too. And then, no matter your feelings about the months that are to come, we can plan for the summer to be something good. Not perfect. But good and purposeful and needed. And when September cycles back around we may still feel eager but we will also feel nostalgic for the wonder of three months of days that we got to experience together...
Blessings on your day.