Why, Hello, Summer.

Photo by ji young Yoon, via Flickr

It seems that lately, most of the people I talk to about summer plans say, “We have no plans. We go to the pool every day!” Speaking for myself, I might not mind going to the pool every day under two conditions: 1) the water is warm; 2) there’s plenty of shade. But since those two conditions don’t really exist where I live (especially in conjunction with each other!), the pool feels more like a chore to me than a pleasure. I really, really, really, really hate sunscreen. (Really.) And squinting. And when you have four kids who are only so-so swimmers, taking kids to the pool involves being at maximum mental capacity from the time you enter the enclosure until the time you leave it. This will be the first year I feel like I can take them by myself at all.

Summer break, day one: helping Grandma rid her flower bed of rocks.

I’ve spent a lot of time pondering how to spend these summer months wisely. Field trips are good. I do like the fact that the kids get to sleep in, because it means I have more than 45 minutes of work time at 5:30 a.m., which is hands down my best brain time of the day. I like having evenings open, where we aren’t in a high-stress, get-out-the-door mode.

But unstructured doesn’t seem to work for us. My kids fight a lot. And they get bored easily. And while I could stupefy them with screen time, they always fight more afterward. And it’s really hard to concentrate on, say, novel plotting, while Julianna is reading Sophia, the Little Mermaid, or Anna and Elsa in her compressed, monotone (read that: loud) voice and Alex is practicing piano and the other two are fighting over Lego, or light sabers, or who gets to go first at Gobblet. It’s hard even to concentrate enough to write this blog post.

Since it’s so hard, I tend to problem solve it a lot. And the result is that last summer, I was so focused on creating productive time, I felt like I kind of cheated my kids.

hog bones
But we’re leaving behind the jawbones and other skeletal remains of the hogs that were composted in this sawdust. I’m quite sure every child in my kids’ schools envisions spending Day One of summer break doing just such archaeological excavations.

So this year, I’m committed to doing a better job of splitting the difference. To that end, I’m setting some general guidelines along the lines of New Years Resolutions. Because I know I will make time to write, I’m not even talking about that.

1. Pool twice a week.

2. Practice my flute half an hour a day, five days a week. Well, four at a minimum. (How far I’ve fallen from the years when I walked through a blizzard to practice four hours every single day!)

3. “Homework” time—a single worksheet or flash cards for the three younger ones, at least twice a week once summer school lets out. That may seem cruel and unusual, but the teachers have asked for it.

4. Field trips. I did the prep work, so we already are committed to two multi-day trips and one day excursion for Pit Stops For Kids. And if last summer taught me anything, it is that the distance between the end of summer school and the start of the fall semester isn’t as great as it seems, so I’m only listing three more “must-do” field trips, two of which are local.

5. I’ve promised Alex I will make time from my Womens Fiction Writers Association challenge to read a series of books that he loves, called the Unwanteds. I’m on book two.

What about you? Do you make plans for the summer? Or does unstructured really work for your families?