Summer Fun When Summer’s Done

It’s the end of August and, for us in New York, it’s almost the end of this summer haze. The lazy days of flexible bedtimes and day trips to sunny places are soon going to morph into the schedule that your life has for the bulk of the year.

Yeah. It’s a return to pick-ups, drop-offs, bake sales, plant sales, art projects, science projects, report cards, index cards, missed buses, doctor’s notes, calls from the nurse, missed calls from the nurse, returned calls to the nurse, homework, fights over doing homework, calling other parents to take pictures of their kid’s homework because your kid left hers in school, awards ceremonies, orchestra concerts, awards ceremonies for orchestra concerts, home games, away games, unsure-where-to-go games, running up to the school at 10AM because she forgot her freakin’ folder you told her to put in her bag the night before but she didn’t listen…argh! Yeah. Life. Life is back in a few weeks.

This is the part where I’m supposed to tell you to hold on to this time because it’s precious. “Life is what happens between making plans.” That, usually within a narrative like this, is what it’s all about.

It’s not.

SF.jpgIt’s the nuts and bolts, sure. These pressing responsibilities are the building blocks of what will make my children into whole adults one day. They need to get through school, grow as people, and maintain a daily schedule that keeps them alive.  That’s all true. These are the things that make up their lives, in the sense that it’s the foundation they need.

I have probably helped Olivia with her homework one thousand times. From writing work to weird math grouping things that I still don’t understand, we have run the gamut of mental exercises. This has been a huge chunk of our lives.

Do you know how many instances of it that I truly remember? Like five. They all just sort of meld into one giant memory of doing homework. It’s not a fun recollection. We don’t sit around and laugh to each other, “Ha ha. Remember that time we did Unit 4 fractions, pages 31 and 35? Ah. That was great. The answer was n=1.2.”

No. We talk about the times we made internet recipes together or trips we took to the park. It’s obvious to most. Those are the moments that create the memories. Those are the moments they remember when they look back on their lives as more than training to survive the adult world. They’re the memories they’ll cherish.

Even now, as I was writing this, I had to step away to watch my daughter create a no-bake cookie dough recipe. She was excited to measure the ingredients herself and do it all on her own. She had been asking for days. I ran up to help her set up. Then, in one of those moments that remind me that even though she’s growing up, she’s still my baby, she asked.

Can you stay here so I’m not alone here?

And I did. I drank coffee and ate a cookie, because it’s Summer on a Sunday and I ain’t got nothin’ to do. None of us do. My son is watching the same Sesame Street he watched three times yesterday. We’re all bums around here.

These moments are so easy to make in the Summer. There’s so much time to do whatever. With kids running around from morning to night, the number of hours they need to be occupied builds and builds. You have no choice but to take them out for ice cream or to an air-conditioned movie theater. You come off like a great parent, because you are, but you’re also pretty bored too. The family time is easy to make on days like that because without it, you’d jump out the window.

sf2.jpgAll of that time seems to vanish when the school year starts. Now, you spend time together, but it’s mostly made up of routine responsibilities.  It’s easy to forget to make the memories when you’re busy running ragged into the ground. Finding those summer moments after summer’s over, though, are what keeps you from remaining ragged in the ground.

Even when there is no time to breathe, I try to find ways to lighten up the torturous journeys to activities. We’ve played driving games on the way to safe-t-swim or 20 questions on the way back from art class. It’s about stealing mundane moments and making them things they’ll remember tomorrow.

Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes I have to remind myself of this. There are plenty of days during the stringent schedule months that I think to myself, “I’ve been with these kids all night.” When, in reality, I haven’t. I have been around them or near them. I’ve steered them in directions, microwaved chicken fingers, or tied shoelaces. But, I haven’t really been with them.

Some days have to be like that. I totally get it. I grant myself that reprieve. I’m not Willie Wonka on a unicycle. I can’t spend every day wedging a pie eating contest and confetti into our lives. But when I notice some time has gone by, I try to lighten up. Nine times out of ten, it’s because I’ve fallen into a bit of a beaten down rut. Making life fun for the kids makes life fun for me. Next thing I know, I’m goofy dad again. It helps us all.

So, I try to stay goofy and not throw out the summer with the pool water. Making life fun for you and your family can be a struggle. The struggle is no realer than it is once the school bell rings. It’s requires a lot of extra effort, but I’m always glad when I do. We deserve it.