What are my kids doing this summer?
That’s right, nothing.
We’ve signed them up for zero camps, have scheduled no play dates and, alas, have no true idea of how we might occupy four kids between the ages of 5 and 12 over the upcoming school-less months.
Yes, I’ve taken note of your full summer calendars. I hear your days will be packed with baseball camp, fishing camp, STEM camp, robotics camp, the YMCA day school, soccer camp, your week at Disney and the photography class you’ve registered for.
I must say, I’m a bit jealous of the action-packed days you have ahead. I’m a bit ashamed ours might not be so glitzy.
After all, the reality of having several young children is that an activity-filled summer would take a ton of pre-planning, cost a fortune and would likely require teaching my 12-year-old to drive himself and his two younger brothers to the next schedule appointment.
But, just as I began to feel bad for my no-camp kids, I listened to your plans a little closer.
I hear exhaustion in your voice already. It seems your precise summer plan has come with an unintended, intangible present – the stress associated with executing (and paying for) the plan.
All parents know this feeling well. It’s what compels us to drive two hours each night so that your little ballerina can learn from the best dance instructor in the county. It has us driving home at 9 p.m. on a school night while our fifth graders complain their seat belts prevent them from completing their math homework in the backseat.
The push for we parents to plan for our kids (and the associated guilt if we don’t) is there constantly, and, that’s too often for my taste.
And suddenly, the shame I feel for my kids’ unscheduled summer subsides. In its place, I feel empathy for you.
Can we help you with a ride?
Would Audrey just want to hang out at our house some day?
You have our number in case you get in a bind, right?
We can help because my no-camp kids will be just hanging out together – swimming, riding bikes around the neighborhood, building forts on rainy days and helping us tend our newly planted garden in the backyard.
But don’t get me wrong. My kids will drive me and my wife crazy.
The bickering, fighting, over-competitiveness and resistance to afternoon naps will not cease. With so many kids, there will be one time in each day that STEM camp will sound really appealing.
But those times will come and go and my kids will, I hope, be left to do what they choose to do around us. That’s the way I remember my unscheduled summer school vacations as a child.
I remember going to the library to pick out new books to earn free tickets the Cedar Rapids Reds’ Minor League Baseball games.
The thundering sounds of my neighborhood’s herd of Big Wheel trikes still rings in my head from those summers spent with time on our hands.
When I toss the baseball toward my 5-year-old’s awaiting bat today, I will still chuckle at the recollection of the biggest kid on my childhood street, Scott, breaking two windows on our neighbor’s garage in a week during one July so many years ago.
Thinking nostalgically about summers passed probably leaves me a bit naïve for what we’re in for this unscheduled summer. But, for many reasons, I need it and I think my kids might, too.
And, while I do feel passing shame for the upcoming months I’ve left unplanned, I don’t feel the pressure to quickly devise a plan that engages each kid in some way each day. No, the only plan I have is to keep it simple – to let my kids be when I should and help them when they need me.
I’ll pitch baseballs and fill flattened bike tires.
I’ll listen to them fight and go through far too many Band-Aids.
Sure, I’ll feel badly for them when they’re bored. But, once the shame subsides, I’m looking forward to be around the house — together.
So feel free to give us a call if you need any help. We can get your Sally to dance at the same time her brother Michael needs to be picked up from soccer camp so that you can quickly make dinner. I’ll be free because I’ve planned nothing.