Ahhh Summer. I love summer. My husband calls me solar-powered. My daughter told me the other day that if I was a Disney Fairy, I'd definitely be Iridessa the Light Fairy, because then I could cover myself in sunbeams all day long. I love the sun, swimming, parks, biking, camping, zoos, lakes, and the not-getting-ready-for school. Pretty much, I love it all. Honest to goodness. My Mom loved it all too, and I'm so grateful to have gotten that part of her.
But I don't live in a fantasy land where the summer is all sunshine and roses. I get that it's hard. I know that many of my girlfriends anticipate summer with a little more panic and a little less sheer joy. I know that having the school-agers mixed in with the littles at home all day everyday creates a different dynamic that can sometimes be challenging. I know that the fighting and bickering increases as the school-agers get a little bored with their siblings and just want their school friends back. I get that for those of you who thrive on routine, summer's lack of routine, every week being totally different than the week before, creates stress. And, for those of you on a shoe-string budget like me, I know that sometimes the summer stress is financial. We've already chosen to cancel one trip for this summer because of cost and replace it with something else far less expensive (tent camping!). Also, all four of our children have summer birthdays, so I totally get the financial stress that summer can bring.
But I also know, my friends, that this is our time, and time is not on our side. The time is short. The summers with our kids home are few and numbered. Oh, maybe it seems like September looms far in the distance, but indeed it does not. A few months ago as I was giddily planning summer camping trips, I said to Paul, "Do you know we only have ten summers left with Evelyn before she graduates high school? "
Ten. Just 30 months to show her as many of God's great wonders in creation and soak up as many days of sunshine with that girl as I can before she graduates and moves into adulthood.
Truth be told, it hurts my heart a little bit every time I hear a friend complain that her children are going to be home all summer. My friend, we are so blessed to be able to enjoy our children during their fleeting childhood summer days. We must be very diligent and disciplined in not wishing these days away.
Jesus said that "the thief has come to steal, kill and destroy, but I have come to bring you life, and life abundantly." My friend, our enemy wants us to dread our summer days with our kiddos. Our enemy wants us to despair of every hour in which our kids are in our house. Our enemy wants to suck the joy out of these sweet summer days. Jesus wants us to have abundant joy. Laughter. Playing. Rest. Sunbeams. Picnics under shade trees. I think we have an obligation as girlfriends to call each other on this when we start to complain. We must help each other stay focused on what matters most.
Yet, I get the struggle. I understand. Parenting is by far the hardest thing most of us have ever done, and if you read my blog then you're aware of my struggles too. This spring as I talked to various girlfriends about summer plans and the "how do you make it through summer?" conversations, I found myself gathering little nuggets of brilliance from several friends that I plan to incorporate into our summer...little tools and ideas that will increase joy and fellowship and perhaps decrease bickering and exasperation. My prayer is that some of these ideas will be a sweet blessing for you too.
So...for what it's worth, here is my Survive & Thrive Summer on a Shoe-String Budget Top Ten Toolkit:
1. Use the parks! Each summer we make a "Tour of Parks" List that we want to visit and/or picnic. Our kids name the parks, rather creatively, which makes it all the more fun for them. No other family in town would be able to decipher our list, and I find great joy in that.
2. Speaking of park picnics....make your picnics easier. Packing picnics need not be time-consuming. It's very frequent on a summer morning, as we are about to jump on our bikes, that I'll just quickly grab a package of buns, a jar of PB, a knife, and a bag of Doritos, and off we go. Or, I grab an entire roll of summer sausage, a block of cheese, a box of crackers, and a knife. When we get to the park, they run off and play while I make prepare lunch.
3. Buy Water. I'm not in favor of paying for drinking water, really ever, except in the summer. We keep a few cases of bottled water in our garage, (because who needs it cold anyway?), so as we jump on our bikes, I can just throw a few bottles in the bike trailer. Easy and simple. And then we don't lose precious Ninja Turtle and Hello Kitty water bottles all over town!
4. Get a pool pass. The investment hurts a little bit up front for a city-wide pool pass, but it takes the pressure off of making every pool visit perfect. Without a pool pass, for me to take my kids to a public pool costs like $12-14 per time. Well, if I'm going to dish out that much money, the pressure is on...YOU MUST HAVE FUN AND WE MUST STAY HERE FOR 2 FULL HOURS!!! But with a city pool pass? "Oh, you're all cold after 45 minutes now that the sun is hidden? Sure we can go. Whatever." "Oh, you want to go to the pool for the fifth time this week? Sure, we have an hour to burn. Let's go!" Totally takes the pressure off and totally worth it.
5. Keep the Pool Bag Ready. If you're going to commit to a pool pass, do yourself a favor and keep the pool bag packed. I bought myself a huge pool bag awhile back. It stays on our entryway bench all summer with boxes of Teddy Grahams, pretzels, fruit snacks, sunscreen, bug spray, diapers, wipes, goggles, water rings, etc. Makes going to the pool so.much.easier. Likewise, the basket of beach towels stays in the laundry room, so the beach towels just cycle through being used, washed, dried, and back in the basket to grab the next day.
6. Get a State Park pass. Seriously...so cheap, and so fun. There are many state parks within a day trip's distance...State Parks are well kept, have clean bathrooms, and are such a great way to get your kids into nature. And pretty much nothing is cheaper than state parks. Also, since our summers are numbered with our kiddos at home, make a list of the National Parks that you want to be certain to visit before your eldest graduates. A few on my list include: The Redwood Nationl Forest, Grand Tetons National Park, Glacier National Park, The Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon....to name a few. Time is short so we have to be intentional.
7. Make a snack schedule. This one is new for me. It's a little nugget of brilliance from a girlfriend. One of my most frustrating experiences is having kids constantly standing in the pantry asking for this that and the other thing. So many decisions!!! "I don't know if you can have more fruit snacks today!!! I don't want to make any more decisions about fruit snacks!" Thus, the snack schedule. Snacks are at 10am and 3pm. Snacks are assigned and written down on the snack calendar so that everyone knows that on Thursday at 10AM they will be eating cheese and crackers, no ifs, ands or buts about it. Eat it or wait til lunch.
8. Make a TV schedule. Is your house like mine in that the begging for TV starts immediately after breakfast, and again you have more decisions to make...can they watch TV or not? Have they had too much screen time or not? So this summer we have a TV schedule. TV time is from 8:30-10AM...this give me some time to work and then some time to get the morning grumpies out before we start our day. After a day of fun and swimming, they'll probably get another 30-60 minutes before supper. For some of you, that sounds like way too much screen time. To me, it sounds like healthy sanity. Do whatever works for you.
9. Keep a Summer Survival Kit in the car. Winter isn't the only season that requires preparation. And the summer survival kit is so much more fun. Be prepared for whatever comes your way by keeping a backpack in the car with a spare swimsuit for each person, granola bars, some water bottles, sunscreen, bugspray, and a pair of old tennis shoes for each person just in case you come across an amazing hike while you're off the beaten path.
10. And last, let your kids be bored sometimes. Truth be told, I'm still working on accepting this. My husband frequently encourages me to let my kids just be bored and do nothing sometimes. He's right. It's so good for kids. Sometimes our best imaginative play is born out of boredom. I am doing a disservice to my kids if I make it my goal every single day to entertain them all day long.
So there you have it. There's a whole lot of cheap summer fun to be had out there. Some of my best memories of summer with my kiddos are lying under shade trees eating summer sausage and crackers. The joy and peace that you can capture in those moments cannot be rivaled, cannot be traded, and cannot be lost. But if we're too busy dreading our days, my friends, we'll miss it all.
Let's say yes to Jesus' invitation of abundant life and joy this summer, my friend.
I'll meet you at the park!