Summer is Here!
“Yay, Summer!….”Wait, it’s Summer?” My boys closed the laptops on the last day of virtual school and engaged in a joyful but confused and somewhat hesitant celebration of the new season. The last day of school came and went this year without the usual rituals and fanfare. Instead of a string of classroom parties, we picked up a clear plastic trash bag from the school curb that included old worksheets, broken pencils, and dried up markers—the contents of their desks. Instead of our traditional excursion to a new St. Louis ice cream spot with friends, we had store-bought ice cream sandwiches in our kitchen. While my boys devoured their inaugural summer frozen treat, I felt relieved to be free from the management of homeschool assignments, but also concerned about our transition to wide-open summer days of more constant togetherness, more isolated home play, and more monotonous refrains of, “What can I do now
Furthermore, I noticed that homeschool had caused my kids to become full-fledged screen addicts. Computer and tablet usage was not really a “home activity” for us until the circumstances necessitated it and introduced my kids to the wide world of games, videos, and endless hours of entertainment at their fingertips. After spending hours in front of the screen each day for the last nine weeks, now it was their first go-to whenever boredom set in. I was feeling desperate to reclaim their view of “play” and re-train their brains.
After nine weeks of homeschool, we had gotten comfortable with our daily rhythm, so as a “Type A Control Freak Mama”, I was eager to set up our summer syllabus. While I didn’t feel the need to mandate a ton of academic work, I did need some semblance of structure for the long summer days. We wouldn’t have swim team to get us out and moving each morning, and we likely wouldn’t be planning daily outings with friends. As my boys licked the last drops of sticky ice cream from their over-sanitized fingers, I felt a bit of panic. What exactly would summer look like this year?
Hey, Summer, I Have a Plan
While I sent the kids out to the backyard to swing, I spent the next hour typing up a series of new posters to hang on the kitchen wall. One flyer listed just a few summer rules that I found quite reasonable, another began with the question “What can I do?” and then listed 25 different screen-free activities that could be done around our house/yard. There was an incentive chart for healthy habits (reading, chores, etc.), and the last document was fancied up with pie charts that outlined daily screen time allotments. I taped them up and felt accomplished and a bit smug as I heard my boys running in from the backyard. “Hey, summer, I have a plan.”
My boys had been quite flexible and agreeable throughout pandemic schooling, so I expected them to cruise right along with this latest version of normalcy. To my surprise, my 9-year old completely revolted when he saw my list of four general “rules.” He was especially appalled by my request that they get out of pajamas by 9:00 a.m. After many tears and refusal to participate in sticker charts, I finally got to the bottom of the issue. While my desire for structure and routine did not ask my boys to do anything unpleasant or difficult, the posters hanging on the wall with mom-created expectations indicated a summer scheduled with more of the same. I realized that my kids and I were both feeling confused by the uncertainties of this abrupt transition to summer, but needed vastly different remedies to deal with these emotions.
A Season of Compromise
I tried to see it from their perspective: how would tomorrow, the official first day of summer break, really look much different from today? Aside from not getting the privilege of playing an hour of math games online, tomorrow would be filled with much of the same activities as the last nine weeks. There were no clear signposts of summer, so they needed some small allowances to make things feel different. After much discussion and snuggling, we worked together to rewrite all of the summer treatises. They agreed that we couldn’t sustain three hot months of “do whatever you want whenever you want to” and were willing to help me revise the rules and expectations. The results were documents similar to the ones I created, but with no regulation on pajama-wearing and added screen time allotted for “educational” activities they’ve come to love.
Meanwhile, I am challenging myself to get creative. We might just create our own themed camp weeks and will definitely continue our quest for uncrowded hiking trails. Most importantly, I learned that I need to give my boys a voice, and we will draft this summer story together.