I have always started summer by setting goals: a long list of things to do and people to see. Living in Southwest Michigan, the possibilities for warm-weather fun seem nearly endless. And as a teacher with three young children, my summer breaks are precious. So in the past, the list has served two purposes: it’s a planning tool at the beginning of the summer that allows us to squeeze in as much fun as we possibly can. And later, when the first day of school draws near, it’s proof of what we accomplished.
At first, it’s fun to sit down at the beginning of summer and dream up all of the places we can go, all of the out-of-town friends we can visit or host, and all of the V.B.S. and day camps we can manage. My summer lists find themselves tacked to my cork board in the kitchen, where I can tick things off one by one. Beach day at Weko: check. Beach day at Jean Klock Park: check. Potawatomi Zoo: check. Play date at Wissing Lane Park: yep. Once my kids and I cross one off, we are on to the next summery task. At first, we methodically move through the list at a manageable pace, a steady, pleasant jog into summer.
But typically, at some point in mid-July when the end of summer is in sight, our pace speeds to an out-of-control, sand-throwing run, as we try to squeeze in all the fun (all the list) before the school year begins.
Summer, my friends, should not be exhausting. I’m convinced summer should feel free, relaxing, and fun. It is the break from unyielding school schedules. It is our space to enjoy family and friends at backyard cookouts or under Baroda’s Fourth of July fireworks or at a picturesque point along our coastline to watch the sun dip into the water.
So this year, I’m approaching my summer goals differently. I’m ditching the long list and, instead, setting three mindful intentions to focus on day to day: be present, be kind to myself, and be grateful. I hope these intentions will drive my family and me through summer in a meaningful and enjoyable pace. I’m ready to forge a new path forward that feels wind-in-my-face free, yet has intention and purpose–and at the right pace.
Even though I’m ditching the long summer-goal list, I will still have a living list of household chores, a teacher’s summer work obligations, and some (fun) scheduled activities for my kids. This is called reality. Reality, though, can be distracting.
So this summer, I’m making more of an effort to be present and live actively in the moments that matter. For me, this means carving out uninterrupted, device-free time, where I give my kids my whole attentive self. I’ll crouch down on the floor to play the role of mama Calico who hosts a mean lemonade party. I’ll not only watch my kids complete the ninja course, I’ll do it with them–shoulder-twisting monkey bars and all. When we’re at the Whirlpool Fountain and the water spouts draw down, I’ll grab my daughter’s hand and sprint to the middle with her, awaiting the water cannons to unleash their spray on us.
Be Kind to Myself:
As I commit more attentiveness to my family, I also intend to do the same for myself. Perhaps this is the most important intention of the three. Every day, I will do something that energizes me or frees me from the summer inertia –whatever that may be. I will put my personal needs first every summer day. Read a book. Work out. Write. Sit on the porch and drink coffee in peace.
It’s easy to get tangled into the busy summer schedules of family and work and play, but I must, for the sake of my sanity, be kind to myself first. This morning, for example, I slinked from bed before the sun (and the kids) had risen and went for a morning jog along the quiet country roads in Bridgman. Sometimes, I choose to drop the kids off at my mom’s or find a sitter and treat myself to slow-flow Vinyasa at Yoga Life. I find that this simple commitment of finding time for me gives me the clarity, release, and energy to move me through my day.
This week, my kids and I started a gratitude journal (something I also do with my high school students during the school year). Modeling the idea after Shawn Achor, a Harvard positive psychologist and author of The Happiness Advantage, we write down three new things we are grateful for from the past 24 hours.
Today, my son wrote that he was grateful his sister could (finally) ride a two-wheeler with us on our bike rides down the Roosevelt path in Stevensville. My three-year old told me she was thankful for the Red Coach donuts dad brought home this morning–especially the one with pink sprinkles. My five-year-old daughter was happy to see her friend at her Power In Motion dance class on Monday.
I was grateful for our reflective time together, writing in our journal. To watch each child light up about the early summer highlights that matter most to them, underscoring that I don’t need that long, arduous list of summer to-do’s.
Practicing the act of reflecting and gratitude, we have to slow our summer pace, feel our feet sink to the warm sands, and do more enjoying.
So, at whatever pace you choose to summer or whatever list (or no list) you wish to live by, my hope is that you enjoy the next two months with the people you adore in the places you feel free. Let your Southwest Michigan summer be the summer you intend it to be.
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