By Elizabeth Bottiaux
A few weeks ago I sat hovered over my phone, intertwining four summer schedules into my calendar. I had it all figured out. Everybody’s camps and classes were carefully arranged in my trusty phone. It certainly wasn’t an easy task to configure the master schedule. But, I’d done it. I should’ve felt content. I thought I’d feel relieved to have my quad of kids actively pursuing an awesome summer.
Instead, I looked at that calendar and found myself growing increasingly frustrated. Nearly every single summer day was accounted for. Each glorious, free flowing, lazy summer day—for which we’d awaited since September—was reserved. After our family vacation, we were left with a mere handful of freedom. Those weeks were threatened to be swiftly snatched up by enticing activities. Dance camps, church camps, musical theatre camps, surf camps, swim team and Junior Lifeguards were the culprits.
As a kid, I never had the opportunity to partake in a vast buffet of recreational delights. My childhood summers were low key. My two younger brothers and I spent our endless summer days playing mailman, swimming in the neighbor’s pool, frog hunting in the creek (until my brother unearthed the towering stack of Playboys near the murky water). My friends and I would ride bikes on the bike trail, alongside the canal. We tirelessly perfected our cartwheels and handstands on the cool front lawn at dusk. We’d thunder through front yards during heated games of tag and hide ‘n seek. We built majestic indoor forts—using every single blanket and bed sheet in the house.
There were plenty of boring days too. I remember my dad warning us that if we stayed inside watching cartoons any longer, people would forget that kids lived in our home. Mom bought me a thick Big Book of Things to Do so I’d stop bugging her about it. It worked; for a short while. I developed a love of simple things. Reading. Crafting. These slow days of summer empowered us to entertain ourselves. We learned to decompress from the quicker pace of the school year.
I had to choose.
The proposed lineup was impressive. Hours of shuttling over-heated, complaining children in a smallish, motorized rectangular box on wheels, was not. And I was to blame. If I signed them up, it would be nobody’s fault but my own that our summer was over-scheduled. I’ve had to convince myself that my kids don’t need these extracurricular activities. They would survive without over-the-top camps and classes galore.
So, I’ve decided not to.
I’m decluttering our summer. It’s going to be simple. Easy. I refuse to make my summer an extension of the hectic school year. I want my kids to have a fun summer. But, I also want my kids to experience a boring summer.
My kids weren’t exactly thrilled when I announced we’d be participating in minimal planned activities this summer. There were tears and lots of moaning. At first I felt guilty about their disappointment. Not for long. They’re going to have an old fashioned summer; the kind I experienced as a kid. They’ll have to learn to love it.
I’m not going to omit every single planned activity. A few will remain. Last summer was Sarah’s first year of Junior Guards. It was nothing short of magical. She has looked forward to JG since last summer and will be returning in August for her debut leap off the pier. Bi-weekly swim practice will continue for both boys. Other than that, let freedom ring!
I want my kids to know what it feels like to play outside all day, barefoot, with toes sticky from Popsicle drippings. They can stay up too late on a hot summer night, with no place to be the next morning. Swim in the pool so long their fingers and toes become shriveled like raisins. I want them to play in the warm sand all day at the beach. Hunt for sand crabs. Boogie board in the salty sea. Learn to surf.
After this summer experiment of stripping away summer excess, maybe I’ll decide it wasn’t a great route. No matter what, we’ll make an abundance of memories. Hopefully we can pull off a simple summer to remember.
Elizabeth Bottiaux is mom to four small humans, ages 4, 6, 8 and 10. She’s a San Clemente resident and has lived in Orange County for the past 16 years. She publishes a blog, www.fourkidsandadog.com, about family life in our tri-city area.