Summer Rhythms

My first summer as a new mom didn’t really feel like summer. I had been staying home nearly a year and so, as I watched moms with older kids reframe their schedules and lament the loss of alone time that school provided, our routine stayed the same. Some things did change. After attending MOPS for that entire school year, I started getting invitations for playdates. A group of moms met for weekly hikes at trails around town and I started experiencing a new world of exploration.

Now, six years later, I’m one of those moms I looked up to. The one who is restructuring schedule and figuring out how to create space for the quiet and alone time I got used to, even with just two mornings a week to myself while our youngest was at preschool.

I hesitate to give advice or share our summer routine because what works for our family could translate to the most stressful summer for yours. One thing I’ve learned over my almost-seven years of motherhood is to try to take the path that is least stressful. If I’m calm and happy, it’s likely my kids will be calm and happy.

Some of my friends make lists of things to do in the summer months so if the kids are bored, they have a preplanned set of ideas to fill the time. I recently read about a mom coordinating her days into “Movement Mondays” and “Water Wednesdays” so their weeks have a rhythm and structure. I know another mom who lets each of her four kids pick one activity they want to do during the summer. She doesn’t guarantee which day they’ll do it but she does promise to make time for those activities.

In our house, summers are for slow mornings in our pajamas, for playdates and water fun, for Costco-sized boxes of OtterPops, for riding bikes after breakfast and before dinner, for extra screen time and reading in our backyard tree castle. As my girls grow, I’m finding a natural rhythm to our days. My oldest thrives on sticker charts and created one for our fridge. I don’t know what reward she’s working toward, but she’ll tidy, sweep, and read to her sister all for the promise of an extra sticker. It works for now.

I thought I’d share a handful of rhythms we’re creating this summer. They didn’t all work last year and they most likely won’t all work next year but in this moment, they are what give me space and the structure I need in these blissfully unstructured days.

Chores Before Screen Time

Normally, I don’t link screen time to a rewards system because screen time is my time. Making my girls give it up means I’m giving up a quiet space in our day. But this year, my almost seven-year-old really wanted to start a chore chart so I did link screen time to her simple chores. Mondays she tidies the main floor, Tuesdays she sweeps, Wednesdays she cleans her bedroom. You get the idea. The baseline is minimal. If she kind of does these chores, she gets screen time. I figure anything is better than nothing and so far it’s decreased my nagging. For me, the key is trying rather than perfection. Our nearly four-year-old is off the hook for this. If she tries at all, we’re good!

Fun Meal Planning

I try to involve my kids in our weekly meal planning anyway, but summers are for saying yes to more. When my youngest asked for cake for dinner, I googled savory cakes and was amazed at the choices! This simple yes means something new in our meal rotation and it feels like a celebration. The other day we ordered pizza, spread the picnic blanket in our front yard, and had an impromptu dinner. Suddenly our normal Friday fare became an out of the norm experience. I’m trying to remember this philosophy in other areas of our days. We have to eat anyway—what’s a simple way to make a normal meal special? What are other daily tasks that can be made fun? Is there a playground next to the grocery store? Can you stop there for a few minutes before your errands? Is there an ice cream shop on the way to another place? Taking some time to mix up your routine feels incredibly special to kids of all ages.

Relaxed Rhythms

Our family works well when we’re on a rhythm rather than a strict schedule. If possible, I like to spend the first few days of summer establishing a new routine. For us, this looks like busier mornings and quieter afternoons. Even though we’re long out of the napping phase, if we’re home we practice an hour of quiet rest after lunch time. Sometimes this means going to our separate rooms with a book. The other day, my girls took their books to the backyard tree fort for the hour. Whatever we do, it has to be an activity that involves minimal interaction with me so that we can all rest.

None of these rhythms happen perfectly on any given day. But because I’m choosing to practice and model them, on those longer days it’s easier to lean into this modified schedule.

If you’re able, take five or ten minutes to think about what gives you the most energy in your mothering. If you need that hour of quiet and space every day, take the time to train your kids to give you that. It won’t be perfect but it will be better than nothing. If you thrive on activity and unique experiences, make a list with your kids and plan out some summer adventures! Just remember that whatever you choose, it has to give you joy and life.

I’m leaning into the paradox of embracing the spontaneity summer offers while creating a structure and rhythm to our days that will keep us sane and safe. It’s what works for our family in this given season and I’m remembering to listen to that more than anything.

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: https://blog.mops.org/summer-rhythms/

A Time of Possibility and Responsibility

In her retelling of an ancient Potowatomi story about maple syrup, Robin Walls Kimmerer ends the tale with this reminder:

“Today, maple sap flows like a stream of water with only a trace of sweetness to remind the people both of possibility and of responsibility. And so it is that it takes forty gallons of sap to make a gallon of syrup” (p 63). Braiding Sweetgrass

IMG_0503We are three weeks into Bea’s school year and one week into Elle’s. On Tuesday, I came home to a quiet house and got more writing done in those couple hours than I had all summer long. On Thursday, I had a meeting at 10:30, right in the middle of my morning. I read and checked social media and wasn’t very productive until midmorning. And then the meeting got canceled. I had another hour or so before pickup.

What to do? I thought about calling the morning a waste and finishing my book. (Which I think would have been a totally acceptable option!) Instead, I checked the list I had dreamed up midsummer and picked one thing to do on it. It wasn’t much – just cleaning out outgrown clothes – but it felt like a good accomplishment.

I had to put into practice my head knowledge: I knew my list would take a while and that I’m in this two-morning-to-myself routine for a while. And yet, when confronted with actual practice, I spent an hour flailing and unsure.

This season reminds me of Kimmerer’s description of maple syrup. On one small level, this is a time of possibility and responsibility for me personally. As I transition to some breathing space in my own schedule, I’m reminded that the sap only comes when it’s ready. That this is a process.

I want to keep the enthusiasm and wonder of the possibility of this time. And I want to it to transfer to the time with the girls. Because really, these five hours every week are a small portion of my days. They are still filled with all the wonders and disciplines and moments that filled our days before.

How do I hold this possibility and responsibility together? How do I remember that this time doesn’t need to be stressful but appreciated as the gift it is?

What about you? Does it take you a while to transition to a new schedule or season? What are your best practices? 

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “rush.”

Books Referenced:
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Embracing the Comfort of Three-Star Reviews

On Amazon, a 3-star review means the book or product is “ok” and is filed under critical reviews. I have trouble with this. In my mind, 3 out of 5 stars means I liked something but it wasn’t life-changing. I read enough good-but-not-great books to be comfortable giving a lot of reads 3 stars.

IMG_8735I know people who abandon books if they don’t predict a 4 or 5-star rating. I get that. Life’s to short for books you don’t connect with. But when I look at my Goodreads profile and all the 3-star books I’ve read, I’m glad I didn’t abandon them. Some books are good books and aren’t meant to be life-changing. Some are great vacation reads and earn a solid 3-stars. That doesn’t mean they’re bad or I wish I hadn’t read them. They just aren’t 5-stars. And that’s fine.

We just got back from five days in the mountains, reconnecting after tax season. This getaway has become essential for our family. We need to get out of town, breathe, and re-bond after an intense three months. I get that going to a mountain cabin is an incredible privilege – that so many don’t get to experience these escapes – and I’m deeply grateful for this tradition.

It’s not that getting away equates stellar, 5-star moments all the time. We’re still a human family made up of expectations and friction. The girls still were sisters – playing sweetly one moment and grappling over toys the next. But overall, this experience was what we needed.

Now, we’re back into our home routine of school and work and dinner. The difference is that Frank can walk Bea to school while I have a moment of quiet. Or he’s home at dinnertime. It takes some time to reestablish these normal routines but we’re doing it. Our days are made up of good, 3-star moments. They are sweet and good but not the stuff of profile pictures and photo albums.

Life is often 3-stars, isn’t it? It’s good, we’re rolling along, but we’re not experiencing life-changing decisions and events all the time. I think it would be exhausting to always be at a 4 or 5-star rating. There’s something so comforting about mostly rolling along, settling into a routine, knowing what to expect.

Because our life is mostly quiet and normal, those big decisions and getaways seem all the more special and needed. I love that we can drive an hour and a half to breathe and reconnect. We don’t need to travel far or go somewhere exotic to have a wonderful experience.

I’m not saying that we need to numb ourselves or keep life mediocre to enjoy those experiences. I’m remembering to appreciate our daily rhythms and routines. Living in a 3-star mindset isn’t critical or uneventful. It’s comforting and it’s where our roots dig deeper, where we build our small practices that flourish when we’re outside of our norms.

I’m going to keep giving 3-star reviews on Amazon. Not because I don’t love the books I’m reading but because we need 3-star books in our lives. We need books that are comfortable, that are quick reads, and that draws us into a sweet story. Books that may not be life-changing but that make me glad I read them, nonetheless. A lot like life.

How do you rate your books? Do you abandon them if they aren’t potential 4 or 5-star reads? 

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Sometimes You Just Need a New Cookbook

We’ve never done a diet or a cleanse together. My view on healthy eating is just that: Use common sense and eat healthfully. Of course whole, homemade foods are best. Moderation is key. And sweets are rarely good.

This tax season was probably our best for meal planning. Of course, we cheated and ate out much more than usual. But on the whole, we were consistent and felt much better at the end.

And then, we stopped. For whatever reason, when we actually had time to cook and plan together, we didn’t. It was easy to get Costco pre-made meals or pick something up on the way home.

Many of our friends have joined the Whole30 fad and it seemed like a good restart – part cleanse, part diet, part common sense. (Well, mostly. I’m having trouble getting behind the no peanut butter rule…) We bought the book, eager to learn more. And then looked at our schedule and realized between visitors and camping and travel, we didn’t have the required 40 days to commit to this plan.

So, we decided to use this book to meal plan. We’ve been using the recipes just for dinners and not following the plan as a whole. And, it’s been awesome! We’ve been eating healthier, more consciously, and the way we know we should be.

It’s been the kick-start we needed to get back on track. I still have my toast, peanut butter, and yogurt for breakfast, but we’ve cut out weekday wine (weekends are fair game) and have been more intentional with our dinners.

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Coloring with Aunt M

Perhaps one day we’ll commit to doing the 40 days. I’ve always been interested in a cleanse and this seems as good as any. But really, it’s amazing what a new cookbook – whatever it happens to be – can do.

It made me think about life and our family. I’ve talked about our lack of date nights and wishing for more. And then my sister-in-law came to visit and gave us a night, just the two of us. We went out to dinner, browsed at Barnes and Nobel, and talked. It was a weeknight. We weren’t out super-late. Bea totally manipulated the bedtime routine. But, it was a good kick-start back on track.

It made me recognize this need. Elle doesn’t love being left, but she survived and she’s old enough to do it without worry. We’re emerging from the infant stage, leaving this first year of intensity behind, and we need to remember that now is the time to restart some of the habits we were able to form when Bea was an only child.

We have some trips coming up, some craziness to our usually quiet schedule and it seems silly to try and start a new habit now. But, if we don’t now, when is the best time? So, we’re cooking whole dinners and planning date nights. Neither are with superb regularity, but perhaps starting these goals will turn them into habits.

What are some habits you wish you had the time to form? Do you just start a new routine or idea a bit haphazardly, hoping to make it regular or do you wait until you can do it right?