I never thought I’d be the parent who overscheduled her children, dragging them from activity to activity after long days at school. I told myself that children didn’t need enrichment, life itself is rich enough. There is truth to this, of course, but as with most things parenting, my tune changed once I had an actual child to raise.
It started with a baby music class that became a source of community for us in the early days. When my daughter took an interest in movement, we added a dance class to our schedule. It took place at the studio where I used to take classes as a young adult. Dancing on the same sprung floors with my child felt like revisiting a part of myself and sharing it with her. When she turned two, unsatisfied with the few Spanish classes near us, I put on my teacher hat and created a Spanish class for her with the help of our then-babysitter. Our weeks started to feel wonderfully full.
Then my daughter started school and we found ourselves with a schedule that was busier than I had intended. At this point we had added gymnastics at her request without dropping anything from the schedule, which is how I became exactly the parent I never imagined I would be–the one handing her kid a granola bar on the way to the next class. The thing is, my daughter loves all of her classes. She, like me, is an active person with seemingly endless energy and interests. Remember how I started a class just because it didn’t exist yet? That’s the energy my child brings to her life, too.
Using Summer to Slow Down
Then again, we all need some downtime. We need time to let our minds wander, to get bored so we can get inspired. We need time to slow down and be together without an agenda. Not just so that we can recharge and get back to the business of busyness, but also because it is in the stillness that we get to know ourselves and each other. I try to build in unstructured time during the week, but between playdates and birthday parties it feels elusive during the school year. For us, summer is more simple. It’s the time we can really slow down.
Trading Busyness for Unstructured Days
My husband and I are very lucky to have both sets of parents just a short drive away. We also truly enjoy their company. Since having children, we have split the summer between their homes so our children can have long stretches of uninterrupted time with their grandparents. We benefit from the change of scenery—my parents live near the beach, his in the country—and from some extra hands to help with childcare when we have to work.
We need time to let our minds wander, to get bored so we can get inspired. We need time to slow down and be together without an agenda.
Other than a week of swim lessons, I have scheduled absolutely nothing for the kids to do this summer. I never do. Because my husband and my work schedules are flexible and we have help from the grandparents, we do not need the childcare that a summer camp would offer. This is the time of year when our days can unfold in a slower rhythm.
Last summer, my girls played with their cousins. They swam, ran, rolled down hills, made giant bubbles, built sand castles, and ate their weight in popsicles and ice cream. My eldest learned to jump rope. We read together and did some drawing. We had a few playdates with close friends. Their bedtimes inched later. The days were repetitive, and maybe because of that I feel like I remember last summer better than I remember any of this school year. It is like the memory is brighter with more vibrant colors, textures, and smells.
Resisting the Temptation To Fill the Time
My eldest wants to ride horses this summer. I briefly considered finding a camp. Maybe one day I will. It will not be the first time I’ve changed my mind since becoming a parent. For now, though, she’ll have to find satisfaction in a pony ride at the county fair. It may not teach her how to ride independently, care for a horse, or build grit. But I hope she remembers it as something special done for the sake of pleasure.
When we return to the city this fall, with the air hinting at cooler days to come, I know I will start to itch to do more. I’ll inevitably want to fill our days with all the wonderful things there are to do in the city we call home. I hope I’ll also remember that simple and unstructured time is as important as any classes we could take. Maybe this time I’ll keep a few days open and pack fewer granola bars in my purse.