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Erin Stewart: The key to a fun and memorable summer

My time with my kids is shorter than ever this summer, so I'm making the most of it by suiting up, jumping in and letting go of all my expectations.
My time with my kids is shorter than ever this summer, so I'm making the most of it by suiting up, jumping in and letting go of all my expectations.
Erin Stewart

All right moms, we’re a month into summer (at least where I live). So far, it’s been a month of popsicles in the backyard, lunch from the drive-thru as often as I can justify it (do the kids really need three meals a day?) and basically doing everything I can to keep my head above water.

My husband has been gone basically the whole month working on his doctorate. I have been working like a maniac to try to meet a looming book deadline. So our usual summer of lazy days by the pool and wild adventures as a family has looked a little different this year.

So, I’ve had to change my expectations for the summer. And I’ve had to take a good look at what actually fills a summer with the kind of cozy, nostalgic memories that I want my children to have.

Here’s what I’ve decided: My kids don’t need their days to be chock-full of fun and well-planned outings. Sure, we’ve had summers like that in the past. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, I’ve pared down the ingredients for a summer full of fun, love and memories to just a few key things:

First, my kids need a parents who plays. My time with my kids this summer is shorter and more precious than it ever has been, so I have to make the most of every minute. That means I’m not sitting on the sidelines for a second of it. I’m putting on my suit and jumping in at the pool. I’m running through the sprinklers. My kids want me to be out there with them. They want me in the photos — in the moments, and the memories. And frankly, I’m happier when I’m in there with them, too.

Second, my kids need free time. Nothing can spark imagination faster and better than a little boredom. My kids don’t need me to be their cruise director for the summer, always planning their next activity. We have blankets. Build a fort. We have a hose. Slap on a suit. It’s good for kids to use their creativity to fill the hours.

And perhaps most importantly, I need lower expectations. No, we’re not going to be able to do it all this summer. No, we aren’t going on some long, fancy vacation. Yes, I’m going to have to work more than usual.

But that’s OK, as long as I can give up the idea that I am in some sort of competition for Summer Mother of the Year. I’m not. I simply can’t do or be it all this year (or any year, for that matter).

But what I can do is set a few top priorities that each person in the family wants to make sure they accomplish this summer. For one daughter, it’s growing a garden. For another, it’s flying a kite at the park.

I kind of love that they picked very simple, easily doable items for their bucket lists because honestly, when the summer is over and the kids are heading back to school, they may not remember every exciting thing they did over three months, but I hope they remember the feeling they had. Whether it’s a quiet evening at the park or the thrill of seeing that first zucchini of the season, those simple moments seem to always make the very best memories.