I’m calling summer 2017 the “Summer of the Great Experiment.” The girls and I are heading up to sleepy midcoast Maine for the full 10 weeks, and my husband is splitting his time between our cottage there and our home in Boston. Our youngest daughter will be with me full time, as usual, and our older girls, accustomed to daily school and activities, will be doing a measly 10 days at a local recreation camp. Ten days. Out of, like, 70. The rest will be unstructured time. Time with their grandparents (who live down the street), time with each other, time alone. Time to get bored.
And time to figure out how to not be bored again.
Maneuvering my family quite abruptly into the slow lane is, indeed, a great experiment. We are a family on the go, generally by design. We like having a lot going on. My middle daughter’s most commonly used phrase has always been, “What we doing after nap?”
But I’ve noticed that my kids also love time at home. Long, lingering time at home. Especially my oldest, who’s the busiest. Soccer, swim, piano. Some after-school care so her baby sister can catch a nap. Birthday parties. The dawn of sleepovers. The dawn of homework. It’s a lot for a 7-year-old.
I recently read Simplicity Parenting, and author Kim John Payne reinforced that this is a common problem today. And the root of that problem? We have So. Many. Options. So many activities to choose from, so many web addresses to find those activities, so many friends to keep up with through social media, so many highly acclaimed STEM toys we’ve bought on Amazon Prime. We’re all just crazy busy. (On that note, good for you for finding the time to read this.)
So what’s a family to do? Payne suggests cutting it all back. The activities. The stuff. The options. She says, “Children need free, unstructured time. They need time to do ‘nothing’; time to do handstands.”
I can picture the girls practicing their handstands on the beach already. And burying treasure. And humming to periwinkle snails to coax them out of their shells. It’s what we all did as kids, when it wasn’t called Simplicity Parenting. It was just parenting.
To simplify your kids’ — and your own — lives, you don’t need to uproot your family for a full 10 weeks each year, although this kind of forced slowdown is, perhaps, easier. With no midcoast Maine friends to speak of, our social commitments will certainly be fewer. And in a less populated area, there’s just not as much going on. A visit to the farmers market or the public library will be a big day for us.
But even if you’re staying put at home, how about treating summer 2017 as your Great Experiment, too? Eat more picnic dinners in your backyard — or even on your front stoop, where neighbors might stop to say hello. Linger at the playground until you don’t have time to cook dinner, and then eat cereal instead. Clear the weekends for pancake breakfasts, family walks, reading in a sunny spot, spontaneous BBQs. Dig in the mud. Giggle about something that gets funnier the longer you laugh. Practice some handstands.
That’s the stuff they’ll remember. That’s the stuff you’ll remember. That’s the good stuff.