Summer is Just One Long Snow Day
I open the window to my home office and am embraced by the first warm breeze of spring. Looking forward to the change of seasons, my thoughts turn to the summer vacations of childhood: times of freedom and adventure. I always imagined that once I became a grown-up and in control of my own life, everything would fall into place as one endless holiday.
But the tables have turned: I am an adult and a parent. I do not have the free rein over my life which I imagined would be the reward for a youth spent obeying adults. And at the other end of the spectrum, although I can’t convince my almost-teenage daughter otherwise, I absolutely do not enjoy spending my small ration of free time “inventing useless rules and bossing her around.”
Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and have been blessed with three talented and hard-working children. I am currently enjoying the time I spend with my youngest daughter, Renée, now in middle school and the only child still at home. She triggers my imagination and brings out the kid in me. But summer vacation—much like being snowed in for an extended period of time—does present obstacles for a work-at-home dad.
The first few weeks are no challenge at all. Activities and family trips have not yet begun; there are an abundance of households willing to host a group of rowdy girls for an afternoon. If you factor in that these kids are all thrilled to sleep as late as possible, our contribution to the care of Renée’s neighborhood friends is quite reasonable.
But how do I amuse myself? What benefit can parents achieve during this break from school? I believe that summer vacation belongs to everyone: children and parents.
I have one of those inquiring minds; and luckily there is still a great deal I can learn from my daughter. I’ve been working on a theory that a teen or preteen — left to her own devices — will enter a downward spiral of staying up later and later, consequently rising later and later, and eventually returning to a reasonable schedule. So far I have not been successful in proving this theory. Last year, Renée stalled out: sleeping until 3 p.m. was as far as she got. But I have a few ideas for this year which could produce positive results and begin a renaissance period in my experiments with the sleeping habits of young adults.
You can be sure that later in summer vacation Renée will be the beneficiary of a week or two at an overnight Girl Scout camp. This is a win/win situation: although a city girl, she loves canoeing and archery. And my wife and I having the house to ourselves is as much a treat now as it was when we were kids. Friends can be invited over for dinner, or we can splurge and join them at a restaurant—all without requiring a complicated coordination of schedules with our daughter. My wife and I can have a quiet time in the evening without the threat of a child practicing her piano hanging over our heads. But we always wind up missing our daughter before camp completes; neither of us is yet prepared for our eventual empty nest.
We’ll plan camp for a few weeks towards the end of the break. This is a delicate balancing act. If camp is too far before school starts, the weeks just prior will allow our daughter time to forget the joys of camp; my wife and I will be the victims of her chronic case of the doldrums. If we plan camp’s ending too near the resumption of classes, things are even worse. We want Renée to return from camp newly-worn-out and docile; as her parents, we deserve the joy of a compliant child far more than the school system does.
But I’m realistic: between planned activities, I know there will be times when I hear that annoying and hopeless, “I’m bored.” But I’m happy to relive my childhood by suggesting activities from my own memorable summers. “Why don’t you team up with a friend or two, pack a lunch, and take a long bicycle trip on the greenway?” As an alternative, I may suggest that she and the neighborhood girls learn a complicated and esoteric card game. I remember my schoolmates and me enjoying countless days of marathon Canasta tournaments. For the younger, or young-at-heart, there’s my favorite: real-world acting. Choose a character (for example a modern-day Hardy Boy or Nancy Drew) and go forth into the world making your own fictional adventures from the various run-of-the-mill realities you encounter.
Sometimes, children think they are bored when in fact they just aren’t inspired. When my suggestions are repeatedly dismissed for no apparent reason, I have one remaining ploy which is sure to make her listlessness vanish. It goes like this: “Well, it’s too bad that nothing piques your interest. But don’t worry; I’ve noticed [insert a chore needing to be done]. Why not tackle that?” This tactic consistently results in a rapid — and successful — reconsideration of all my previous suggestions. I am always amazed at how completely this final recommendation can ease my daughter’s pain.
The highlight of our summer is a week or two of family vacation, sharing our reprieve from rules and responsibilities. This annual trip is a comforting reminder to our family that — when our interests are aligned — we really are rather fond of one another. Although we usually have a destination, a place to see or someone to visit, we also relish the flexibility of being able to explore spontaneously. Our goal is to vacation as if we live there: get to know the area and the people. Certainly, there are times when a roadside sign comically overstates the significance of an attraction. But more frequently we’re pleasantly surprised. Just a short hike from the road, we may discover a waterfall illuminated by a stray sunbeam and set like a gem in the forest. If successful, the vacation carries forward to a few additional weeks of our summer; what a pleasure to continue day-to-day life with the wide-eyed wonder of a tourist.
Phillip A. Lombardi is a father and author of "How to Irritate Parents," a humorous family guide that provides playful ways for parents and teens to connect and communicate. The book will be available in August 2015. Updates on twitter @PhillipALombard