The Highs and Lows of Summer

At night when we eat dinner, we like to go around the table and share “highs and lows.” Something good that has happened in the day and something that wasn’t so great. Elle doesn’t quite understand the idea and hers often go something like, “My high was going to the zoo with mommy and Bea. And my low was seeing daddy when he got home!” Maybe it’s that her life is truly one big high. More likely it’s that she’s just too young to understand or remember the tough parts of the day. I love hearing about her lows-that-were-really-highs.

IMG_0485Summer is over and as I reflect on these past ten weeks out of our normal routine, I feel a bit like Elle. The highs and lows kind of meld together. A high was having unstructured and free days. A low was having unstructured and free days. Elle is reminding me of the both/and rather than either/or of life.

In that spirit, I thought I’d share a little summer update of highs, lows, things I learned, and little mundane moments.

Taking a Writing Break is Good for the Brain
I decided to take July off of blogging. I had a couple book reviews and things but mostly I kept this computer shut. I didn’t even send out my monthly newsletter! It was good to not stress about (self-imposed) deadlines and goals. But here we are, the second week of August, and I’m slowly stretching my writing muscles again. Routine helps. I know that as I sit down and practice, the words will come back. But it was hard to truly let go. To live in the moment. To not wish a bit for kids who were just a little more independent. It will come. Every year is so different. But it’s a tug, being productive and living in the moment.

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Threenagers are the Best… And the Worst
Now that Elle is three, I’m remembering what a cool and awful season this is. We are catching glimpses of the future. Travel is easier, the girls’ friendship is blossoming, and Elle’s vocabulary and humor are so fun. Mixed with all these amazing moments are the frustrations of wanting to figure things out herself. I’m not much help, as I’m itching for a more independent season, as well. I’m remembering to slow down – for both of us – and take in these moments slowly, without wishing them away.

Screen Time is July’s Best Friend. But Unplugging is Pretty Awesome, too.
We started the summer strong. Playdates, zoo camp, activities, swimming, camping, limited screen time. And then the long hot days of July felt longer and hotter. And the amount of screen time got longer and longer. I don’t feel guilty about that at all. The girls got outside for unstructured play every day. They drew and read and squabbled and created. But I also was pretty relaxed about letting them watch an extra show (or three) more than usual.

IMG_0302When we drove up to Wyoming, we had a 10-hour drive ahead of us. Reception is sketchy at best in the Tetons and Yellowstone so we decided to go the screen-free route. It was mostly good. There were a few moments on the drive when I wondered what we were thinking but overall, the detox was great and the girls didn’t miss their shows. Lesson learned: All bets are off in the summer. Screen time is a savior but it’s also sweet to completely unplug.

Summer Celebrations are the Best
The last week of July is filled with celebrations for our family. Bea’s birthday is three days after our anniversary and Elle’s birthday is three days after that. It’s a chaotic and cake-filled week but I love having a reason to celebrate in the mist of those lazy summer days. The girls still love having a joint birthday party and I love inviting tons of friends for hot dogs, Costco sheet cake, and kids running wild in the backyard. What began as a stressful feeling of poor planning has turned into a week that I look forward to.

Community Abounds
This summer has been a lesson in the value and richness of diverse community. At my low points, I long for a “church home,” where our social circles are at and where we find all we need. Our reality is that we attend services at one church, have a fantastic parent community at another church, and are getting more and more plugged in with our school and neighborhood community. Sometimes this feels incredibly disjointed but a few different moments reminded me that this is an incredible gift. Our girls are growing up with a wide range of experiences, values, beliefs, and worldviews and I am so grateful for that.

There’s always a bittersweet feeling at the end of summer. I can’t believe that alarms are set and we’re back in the school routine. If I learned anything this summer, it’s that seasons pass quickly and as long and tough as some days can be, I know I’ll look back on these little years with fondness and gratefulness that I was able to be part of these daily moments.

What about you? What have you learned this summer?

Untitled designIn case you missed it, I’m raising money for women to join us on the Ruby Woo Pilgrimage. Read about it here and please consider donating – every bit helps!

Summers Are for Saying Yes

I had the honor of sharing these summer adventure ideas over at the MOPS blog this week.

During the school year, we are a schedule-driven family. Preschool three days a week; MOPS one morning a week; one day free for play dates or pajama days, whichever we need most. Most of the time we need to be out the door by 9:00 a.m. and home no later than noon to start to wind down for naps and quiet rest.

summers-are-for-saying-yes-1002x539I love the idea of being a “yes mom.” Someone who recognizes the beauty of the present moment. Someone who isn’t so tied to a schedule that those precious detours are savored. But, my firstborn, Type A personality just doesn’t make that a natural habit.

Summertime is different. For the entire month of June, we have nothing planned. Just a few penciled-in activities, a few loose play dates. Nothing is set in stone; nothing must be done.

I decided that this would be the perfect time to practice being a “yes mom.” Bike riding and Popsicles after breakfast? “Yes!” Backyard camping midweek? “Yes!” Pajamas and forts and movies? “Yes!” There are so many possibilities and I want my kids to feel like they have a say in what we do during these days.

Of course, at nearly 5 and 2 years old, my kids need some sort of routine. Without a loose rhythm to our days, freedom quickly turns to chaos and magical moments turn into hot tempers. We’re still not in a place to spend all day at an activity. My toddler still naps for a few hours and my preschooler needs quiet time, even if she doesn’t think she does.

Here are some morning activities that are totally outside our normal routines, off the track from our usual memberships, but still easily done before lunchtime.

Take public transportation to an ice cream shop.
My girls are still in the stage when all big trucks and public transportation can stop an activity. Buses and trains are just so cool! Denver has a great light rail system and a newly renovated downtown central station with coffee shops and an ice cream parlor. A favorite summertime activity is to drive to a station that isn’t too far from downtown and catch the train to Union Station. We walk from the light rail into the beautiful station, arriving just in time for the ice cream shop to open. What tops a train ride? Ice cream before lunch!

We eat our cones, maybe play in the water fountains, and then head back to the train. Because kids ride free, this can all be done for the cost of one adult ticket and ice cream cones. Not a bad way to have a fun morning adventure.

Find a trail for a wandering day.
After reading, Best Friends for Frances, a story about Frances the badger by Russel and Lillian Hoban, my preschooler longed to go on a “wandering day.” A day without grownups, where she could wander all by herself. Even though we live in a fairly safe neighborhood, the idea of letting my 4-year-old just head out the front door on her own is way outside my own level of comfort.

One of the best parts of our neighborhood is the state park that’s just 10 minutes away, right in the middle of the city. With miles and miles of trails, we can easily find a wandering spot. We’ll pack plenty of snacks and my daughter can run ahead without fear, while our toddler and I follow at a slower pace. We’ve found a few trails that are less than two miles, which is the perfect distance for this phase of life. I can carry our youngest and know that our oldest is able to complete the loop without help. Finding an outdoor park to let my kids roam free is a way I can instill a love of the outdoors without waiting for the weekend.

Host a front yard Popsicle party.
Our neighborhood is filled with kids and grandkids on their bikes. One of my summer staples is buying a huge box of cheap Popsicles. Even though I find this a stretch to count as an “adventure,” my girls live for Popsicle parties with their friends. Whether it’s first thing in the morning or after nap time at the heat of the day, the kids come out and gather for bike riding, Frisbees, scooters and skinned knees. The moment an injury occurs, the popsicles come out and everyone is magically healed. Originally, I tried buying the fancy organic fruit-only pops but I soon realized that the kids just want iced sugar. And since it’s summertime, why not?

I’m learning that, to be a “yes mom,” I need to keep my expectations attainable. I can do bigger things like the light rail but I can also easily keep popsicles on hand for the next three months. I’m learning that, to create a sense of adventure, it’s all about attitude and looking for those small opportunities to take us out of our normal routines.

What are some ways you’re saying yes to everyday summer adventures?

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: http://blog.mops.org/summers-are-for-saying-yes/.