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A Summer Manifesto For The Big Kids

May21

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There’s a no-man’s land, I think, in those big-tween/young-teen years, when it comes to summer break. The kids are too old to really need supervised care of some sort, but they’re still too young to get a job. Back when I was a kid, I attended camp pretty much full time as soon as school let out, until I was 14—at which point I got a job and worked every summer. But nowadays (at least around here), other than babysitting, jobs for younger teens appear to be a thing of the past. There’s still plenty of ways to keep the kids busy both in and out of the house, of course, and I have a lot of fond memories of my own camp experiences, but I guess I’ve come to view summer differently, over the years.

Call me a sap if you must (you wouldn’t be the first one), but once both my kids hit the teens, it really sank in that yes, they do grow up and aren’t going to be here with me forever. Their childhoods are going to be over in a few short years. This fills me with a mixture of panic over all I still want to instill in them before they’re no longer under my roof and wistfulness for simpler times, when teenagers weren’t expected to spend their summers doing things that will look amazing on their college applications. Throw in a summer of extreme family stress and medical crises (last year), and years of a vague sense of what I kind of want for my kids has gelled into a manifesto of sorts for the summer months.

It’s supposed to be a break. Let it be a break.

I have one child who does best when scheduled to the max and one who does better with a looser schedule, but either way, we tend to place a lot of demands on our kids during the school year, and I know very few kids (or people, for that matter) who don’t benefit from just stepping off the hamster wheel for a bit to recharge. I don’t want it turning into Lord of the Flies ’round here, but the first week or two after school ends, I just let the kids decompress and do as little as possible. For one kid that means sleeping a lot, and I figure it wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t necessary, right? So I try to bite my tongue as the kid who’s been up since 7:00 asks the one who just rolled downstairs for breakfast at 11:00 if she ever gets tired of sleeping. We won’t continue in a complete free-form manner all summer, but I try to remind myself even later on that this is their break, and the goal is to make it different from the rest of the year in the best ways.

This is the season to say “Yes.”

I am not by nature a “Yes Mom.” Yes Moms say yes more often than they say no, even when it makes a mess or is less convenient than saying no. For a control freak like me, trying to balance a couple of high needs kids and working full-time from home, I’ll be honest: no is often a lot easier and more natural-feeling to me than yes. But I’m learning that yes is not only better for the kids, it’s better for me, too, because I can’t control everything, and I’m happier when I stop trying. So—within reason—yes it is. Yes, you can go ahead and bake (as long as you clean up when you’re done). Yes, let’s go swimming every day. Yes, you can gather up found objects and make art. Yes, invite your friends over as often as you like. Yes, let’s go for ice cream in the middle of the day. Why not? Better yet, why don’t you make some ice cream?

Insert minimal, supportive structure.

Despite what my parents (and my husband; we had very different childhoods) may say about summers spent leaving the house in the morning and running around with a pack of kids until dinnertime, I think in general our kids are so booked up with school and activities these days, they actually need to learn how to entertain themselves when presented with large chunks of free time. So… we go to the library every week. We have limits on screen time so that no one ends up watching TV or messing around on Facebook all day long. After the yay-school’s-over decompression period, we agree upon some basic scheduling, like that everyone will be up and have breakfast by 9:00. The kids are encouraged to look at various community schedules online and find things happening around town that they might like to do. And yes, I am the mean mom who still enforces summer bedtimes (albeit ones later than the school-time ones).

Sneak in skills-building.

My kids have chores all year long, of course, but there are more chores in the summer because they have more free time. I try to balance out the agony of increased responsibility with things which are either 1) fun or 2) paid. (Hey, I’m not above bribery.) For example: both of my kids enjoy cooking, but it can be hard to work that into a homework-and-activity-laden schedule while school’s in session. During the summer, though, each kid is responsible for dinner one night each week. They pick their nights, and know that the meal has to be planned and the shopping list given to me on the weekend, and then on their nights they just have at it. We’ve been doing this for a few years, but I’ve noticed that lately they’re more likely to go beyond a bowl of cereal or a sandwich for breakfasts and lunches, too. And while they do their own laundry and clean their own bathroom during the year, over the summer I may offer an incentive for things like cleaning windows or digging out an overpacked closet. This is also when they do things like help in the garden, and rather than sewing on a button or ironing something for them, I’ll teach them how to do it themselves.

Don’t forget family time.

This is the age where we parents wake up one morning to discover we’ve become stupid and embarrassing overnight, and we’re lucky to get a disdainful eyeroll between text messages, sometimes. In spite of this, the counterbalance to saying yes a lot and letting the kids spend extra time with their peers is extra time as a family unit, too. We like to go camping, both because it’s relatively inexpensive and because we seem marginally less stupid to the kids when they’re trapped in the wilderness with us. Last year my husband took my son on a “guys’ road trip;” this year they’ve decided to make it annual event, and so I’m taking my daughter on a “girls’ trip,” too. It doesn’t have to be lavish or long; a few days of one-on-one time is a golden opportunity to reconnect and make memories.

Yep, it’s shaping up to be another perfectly ordinary, extraordinary summer. I can’t wait!

About the author

Mir Kamin

http://wouldashoulda.com/
Mir Kamin began writing about her life online nearly a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she's become one of those people who talks to her dog in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she's continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she's bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.


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8 Responses to “A Summer Manifesto For The Big Kids”

  1. Rachel May 22 at 4:18 pm Reply Reply

    I don’t have teens yet, but I’m right there with you.  I’m trying hard to be a yes-mom, and I agree that some structure is necessary…. but I’m SOOOOO READY for the lazy days of summer.  

    Except for that camping bit.  My husband took both of our kids camping on Mt Etna last weekend, and I had a much-anticipated (and much NEEDED) 24 hours of alone time.  They came back filthy and RIPE and exhausted and we were all happy.

  2. Arnebya May 22 at 4:57 pm Reply Reply

    My girls are 12 and 9; the boy is 3. My husband is able to be home with them and while an additional paycheck would be nice (read = JESUSTAKETHEWHEEL, WE NEED MORE MONEY), the idea of no specific plans per day, no schedule, no camps is so exciting. I’m able to be off work only one day every two weeks but I can be home by 3:30 most days. I’m trying to make the most of it. And saying yes more, especially on weekends because it’s easier. More and more lately “why not” seems to creep into my mind before I give the automatic no. I want the girls to experience summers like I did (although walking into the woods because there is a legend that Old Man Clutch still lives there in a haunted shack isn’t suggested). Go to the library, visit the museums (don’t be one of the DC residents who can’t say they’ve been to the damn Monument), go to the zoo, the arboretum, the park, the pool. I hope the lack of structure gives them a glimpse into how summers “should” be.

  3. suburbancorrespondent May 22 at 6:01 pm Reply Reply

    I’m sorry – I got stuck on the “we LIKE to go camping” part and got confused.

  4. Jamie May 22 at 6:05 pm Reply Reply

    Yes! to trying to be a Yes Mom more often, too! I am so looking forward to a less structured schedule once school is out. The kids will still do something during the day as I work outside the home, but at least in the evenings we’ll be free to dip in the pool or what not rather than heading to soccer practice or something else. I can’t wait!

  5. Katherine May 22 at 6:21 pm Reply Reply

    I’m going to try to get back to the kids cook dinner bit this summer. For various reasons, it fell by the wayside mostly last summer. 

    My teens (14 and 17) have a schedule of sorts. Swim team for an hour in the morning and a chore list (takes 20-30 min most days, if they apply themselves).  There is a bit too much video gaming going on usually. I would like to limit that better this summer…

  6. Brigitte May 23 at 8:32 am Reply Reply

    Love this post! My kid’s still younger, but I try to be relatively unscheduled too at the beginning, other than a few playdates. Then she has a couple weeks of day camps, then family vacation, then back to a week or so of unscheduled time – with ME! – before school starts up again.

  7. Jenne May 23 at 5:28 pm Reply Reply

    Fantastic! DD is a just-turned-13, and I agree – there is that zone between forced 7:30am camp and Minecrafting all day. Hoping the barn will become the go-to most evenings, and there are some classes at the local community college that she’s interested in. It’s all about balance.

  8. Kristen Jun 10 at 1:47 pm Reply Reply

    Thanks for the reminder, Mir. This is awesome. 

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