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well lived

Scrap the Summer Itinerary and Just Chill Out

It’s time to find the fun in the unplanned moments.

3 boys in a shopping cart
A young woman with dark curly hair is using mobile phone. Female is smiling while holding smart phone. She is lying on sofa at home.

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The sun is on my face, the ice cream man’s jingle in my ears, and my brain is abuzz with all the exciting things my family and I are going to do this summer. A list blooms in my brain—trips to the aquarium and museums, days spent swimming and hiking. That is until I remember that we have already done all those things, and let’s just say the expectation far outweighed the reality. In fact, on closer inspection, most of those fabulous summer outings were actually afternoons filled with tears and torture.

3 boys standing in park
Are we having fun yet? | Photo credit: Courtesy of Alisa Schindler

Dragging my disinterested kids to the park where they sulked the whole time and then got sunburned; hiking when one kid refused to walk, standing rigid and rooted to the ground like a tree while another ran straight for the poison ivy; lugging gear through heat and sand as I anxiously watched three kids in the ocean. Yep, in every seemingly fun place lurks all sorts of hidden nightmares.

One of my favorite summer fails was the Fourth of July that my husband looked up from his morning paper with an excited gleam in his eyes. “Kids!” he boomed, and immediately three small elephants trumpeted down the stairs and barreled into the kitchen. “We’re going to Coney Island for the hot dog eating contest!” 

“I don’t want to go,” said my oldest. 

“I am not going,” said my middle.

“I’m hungry,” said my youngest.

Undeterred, I immediately began gathering snacks, bathing suits, and towels while smearing sunblock on their squirming bodies. “The contest is a national tradition,” I explained. “We’re gonna see the champ Joey Chestnut. He can eat like 70 hot dogs in 10 minutes!” 

“That’s gross,” my oldest sneered. 

“He’ll probably die,” my middle chimed in.

“I want a hot dog,” said my youngest. 

I ignored them. “Come on!” I encouraged with slightly manic enthusiasm. “It’s going to be so much fun!” 

The “fun” turned out to be an hour-and-a-half car ride and a mile hike to the boardwalk in 95 degrees with tens of thousands of people all straining to catch a glimpse of the show. That is, all except my children—one whining he was hot, another complaining to go home, and the third who looked about to doze off, apparently overcome by all the excitement. 

The best moment of the day came when we were back home in our living room, clean and cozy on the couch, watching a news piece about what a great day it was in Coney Island at the hot dog eating contest. That’s when we all laughed and laughed.

And there it was—the happy family togetherness I was hoping for right there in our very own living room. No traffic. No hoopla. No stress. 

It dawned on me that we didn’t need all the big plans and fancy outings. I didn’t need to turn summer into a rotation of scheduled events. That maybe, just maybe, we could slow down and not force fun, but rather take a moment to really relax. I mean, the lack of anything to do is what we all love about summer, right? So why was I so intent on dragging my kids out of bed to do “something”? 

Back when they were younger, it had a lot to do with getting out of the house; with feeling like I was a good mom who “did things” with her kids. And as they got older, the stakes got even higher. I now feel the pressure of time slipping from us. They grow so fast! Memories must be made!

3 boys staring at their phones
A visit to the greatest city in the world | Photo credit: Courtesy of Alisa Schindler

But wouldn’t it be nice to finally do it without all the stress? Maybe even—I know, this sounds crazy—actually enjoy our summer with each other. 

So, this year I resolve not to over plan and toss the to-do list. My kids just finished a year of alarm clocks, school assignments and extracurricular activities. They don’t want to be woken by a drill sergeant (and I am so tired of being one!). Summer is their chill time—and even though I’ve forgotten for some years, it’s also mine. Sure, we can occasionally enjoy an ambitious outing (hey, we wouldn’t have those frightening, I mean funny, stories to laugh about together if we didn’t!), but for the most part, we’ll be thinking small. 

Maybe some random classes if they’re interested, but mostly I envision a summer filled with lemonade stands, impromptu BBQs and water balloon fights on the lawn. My kids can kick back, hang with friends at the park or town pool, walk to the local ice cream store and, yes, even enjoy some Fortnite. It sounds sublime, and I can already visualize my kids’ happy, contented smiles as I look up from the book I’ll be reading from the lounge chair on my lawn; a warm breeze blowing, iced tea at my side. Because if our best summer moments come from sleeping late and never quite getting out of the house, well, that sounds like a beautiful family day to me. 

Sometimes, having no plans really is the best plan.

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Published July 2nd, 2019
A young woman with dark curly hair is using mobile phone. Female is smiling while holding smart phone. She is lying on sofa at home.

Join the family!