Summertime, and the Livin’ Is Easy…I Hope

For years I struggled to find balance – between scheduled and unscheduled, activity and rest, work and play – during the summer months. I tried different kinds of color-coded calendars, bucket lists, and chore charts, all of which worked…about 20% of the time.

Tired of feeling defeated and disappointed in myself, last spring I decided to no longer simply survive summer with my kids. Their childhood years were racing past me in a blur, and I wanted to love summer with them…before I was all out of summers with them. I spent the entire month of May reading blogs and scouring Pinterest so that when the bell rang on the last day of school, I had a plan.

Said plan came with plenty of ups and downs, but overall, our summer went smoothly. Both kids and I rested, relaxed, had fun, learned new things, and rolled into August feeling good about ourselves and our relationships with one another. And because I imagine many of you find yourselves in a similar situation – intimidated by the summer ahead and wondering how to emerge on the other side feeling happy and fulfilled – here are a few of our tried and true ideas for making this season one you and your kids will not only remember, but cherish.

  1. Create a schedule. The summer schedule needn’t be as rigid as the school year schedule, but kids thrive when their days have at least some semblance of order to them. Approximate wake-up, bed, and meal times as well as regular lessons, classes, or camps will provide predictability, stability, and comfort.
  2. Create a calendar. Like the summer schedule, the summer calendar can be looser than the school year calendar. But creating a physical calendar on which each day’s plans have been noted is worth the time…and will prevent you having to field 100+ “what are we doing today?” questions before you’ve finished your first cup of coffee.
  3. Block off down time. After adding swimming lessons, art classes, and sports camps to the calendar, take note of where you have blocks of free time and designate them as just that – free time. Reserve a couple of mornings, afternoons, or even days each week for spontaneous fun: family day trips, outings to the movie theatre or swimming pool, or even just staying home and letting the kids run wild in the backyard.
  4.  Give them jobs. When the kids spend more time at home, they should have more responsibilities at home. Perhaps they take on an extra chore or two, or if they’re a little older, they can care for younger siblings or help out with meal planning and preparation.
  5. Keep them on track academically. Do your future self a favor and make sure your kids stay on track academically with some kind of bridge book and daily quiet reading time. When fall rolls around and you’re back to helping with homework and projects, you’ll be glad your kids won’t need to relearn anything from the previous year. And quiet reading time is good for everyone’s sanity.
  6. Bend the rules. On occasion, throw those schedules and calendars and responsibilities out the window. Skip the chores and head to the beach. Bail on the academic work and watch cartoons. Ditch dinner at the kitchen table and have an outdoor picnic or a picnic on the living room rug.
  7. Take time for yourself. Whether a quiet morning at the coffee shop, lunch with friends, or even a weekend away, periodically step away from the kids and spend some time alone or with those in your life who rejuvenate and energize you. Mama Bears can’t keep everyone and everything else running smoothly if they haven’t first shown themselves a little love.

Bonus tip #1: Don’t want to spend money? Make popsicles, visit the public library, play in the sprinkler, turn your living room into a movie theatre, set up play dates, sign up for vacation bible school, and look into Kids Bowl Free.

Bonus tip #2: Tired of your kids asking to play with their electronics? Create a checklist like this one. It only takes a week or so for kids to remember to check the list before asking, and usually they get so caught up in doing something on the list that they forget about the electronics all together!

Nothing about this list is perfect, complete, or workable for everyone (nothing every is when it comes to kids…), but knowing I have a plan in place makes this Mama Bear excited to kick off summer vacation.

5 LESSONS A MIDWESTERN MOM CAN LEARN FROM HER EAST AFRICAN SISTER

5 LESSONS A MIDWESTERN MOM CAN LEARN FROM HER EAST AFRICAN SISTER

"Just as it’s essential to acknowledge what’s broken and do what we can to help relieve suffering, even if it’s a world away, it’s also important to pay attention to the beauty present as well. As I’ve traveled through East Africa for both work and pleasure, I’ve grown to admire much about the way women cultivate community and raise their sons and daughters. In fact, I believe a Midwestern mama can learn a lot about motherhood in the cradle of humanity."

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Mama Bear Moment: Watching them Fail to Let them Live

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It was late July and the summer days were numbered when we decided to venture out and try a new swimming pool. The neighborhood moms and I packed our swim bags, grabbed our towels, and sun-screened all the people for an adventure. This new pool had a high dive, which is rare anymore as it falls straight into the “too-dangerous-for-kids-these-days” category.

To participate in the high-dive fun, it was mandatory to pass a swim test.  My oldest daughter is an anxious perfectionist (her apple falls very near her mama’s tree) who rarely tastes defeat. For this reason, practicing failure was an ever present “to do” for her dad and me, but we found contriving situations for kids to fail is easier said than done. 

I knew the moment she asked if she could take the test that my answer would be an enthusiastic YES.  She is a capable swimmer, so I wasn’t throwing her to the deep end sharks, but this test exceeded her capabilities. She would get to experience that bitter mix of disappointment that comes so infrequently to kids these days. I gathered round the side of the pool with the other onlookers, a knowing smile on my face because this moment had failure written all over it.

Some might say the sense of elation I got when given the opportunity to watch my daughter fail was inappropriate. Yet, I had been diligently looking for a moment to practice failing and, when one fell in my lap, I breathed a sigh of relief. What better way to practice vulnerability? And tenacity? And resolve that failure isn’t the end, but only a step along the way.

In an era of participation trophies and everybody gets a turn fair play, our kids often miss out on experiencing failure. And we all fail at some point or another … I find myself failing nearly daily some weeks! Without failure, there would be no great successes. After all, life is about how you handle Plan B (or C or D.) It can be hard to find opportunities to practice failing, but it’s a skill that should be tried on for size in childhood. Adulthood is a series of small (and large) failures that lead to great victories and, without practice, failure can be wholly overwhelming.

She didn’t pass the swim test that sunny July day. She cried hot tears down her chlorine-soaked cheeks and we got to have a thoughtful talk about how failure felt, and, more importantly, how she would try again another time. We got to talk about what she could do differently and how, despite being upset, she really was okay. Even better than okay—she was prepared with the tools to succeed the next time around.

My Mama Bear sunned herself on the warm pavement around the pool that day. While it’s never fun to watch your child crumble in the agony of defeat, it’s a great feeling to know they are fine-tuning a life skill that will take them (slightly more) comfortably into adulthood. Mama Bears fail and rise again…frequently…and it’s a gift to be able to pass this down to our cubbies.

What might happen if we dare to fail boldly, comfortably, and completely out loud? What if we let our children fail and then showed up to be there to help them rise again. That's my dare for you: Don't let the shackles of failure weigh you down. Instead, know that each failure teaches you exactly what you needed to learn.


Mama Bear contributor Abbie Keibler is a full-time working mama to three girls born within three years. She married her preschool sweetheart and settled within five miles of both sets of their parents after years spent college-ing in other states. Abbie loves being immersed in nature, her family's tradition of pizza and a movie on Friday nights, and putting words together to make them dance off the page.