For several years, I dealt with the inevitable summer kid complaint of “I’m bored” by keeping a list of possible activities posted on the refrigerator. Some were solo ventures – blow bubbles, draw a picture. Others were group doings – board games, etc. Some could be done at home and others were of the out-and-about variety for times I was available. Dozens of times each summer, I’d say “Go look at the list and choose something.”
Now I wonder how many summers I have left with any kids still at home. I hope it’s more than one, but fewer than ten. I know the empty nest can be bittersweet, but failure to launch is not all roses either. While I still have them, I want to do more than get through my daily checklist of bare survival tasks over and over: get cavity filled, pick up denture tablets for Mom, go to work again, cook dinner again and again and again…
This summer I have a fervent desire to squeeze in some memory-making with my big kids. My 20-year-old (side note: Twenty? Who compressed the time?) is only taking one single summer class, plus a variety of pet sitting jobs. My 17-year-old is taking no summer school classes for the first time in a few years. I hope next year, even if they’re both at home, they’ll have steady jobs. This might be my last chance for a fun summer with them. And, hey, we’ve already started.
The husband, the two progeny and I spent three days at Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park in southern Missouri, reliving our various childhoods. We didn’t even let the weather get us down – 63 degrees and overcast. It only meant we didn’t have to fight crowds. As we all splashed around, climbed on boulders, and exclaimed over tadpoles, I realized my young adult kids were having as much fun as they did with the same activities ten years ago. Then I watched my husband building little rock dams to experiment with changing the water flow, getting in touch with his inner 8-year-old. I thought about how much I enjoyed simply climbing around on the boulders and recalled the many times as a young ‘un when I was admonished to “get down from there before you fall and get hurt.” I was forever climbing things. I guess there’s nothing like a combo of rocks and water to bring out the little kid in everyone.
Later, back at our cabin, another memory came to me as we were roasting marshmallows. My parents never had much money or time. I remember one major trip, but we didn’t do a lot of vacationing. Camping wasn’t really a thing for us. I’m pretty sure neither of them saw any allure in an activity designed to replicate the everyday hardships of their youths – living in places with no electricity or indoor plumbing. But my mom would come up with little enhancements to our daily lives. One of my favorites involved firing up the gas stove and letting us roast marshmallows over the flame. I appreciate now what a risk she was taking with the possibility of goo on the burners, but she left a warm glow in my heart.
I have many undone adventures on my parental wish list. I have wanted to take my kids out to California to see the giant redwoods. I’ve dreamed of family bicycling around Mackinac Island. The list goes on, and most of the dreams will never happen. You know what? It’s okay. Mostly. My parents didn’t even take me to state parks like my husband and I have done for our children, yet my mom created happy memories using a little creativity and a kitchen stove.
I talked to a man recently who fondly recounted armchair travel with his grandmother, who raised him. She couldn’t take him on real trips, but she showed him the world through National Geographic VHS tapes as he grew up. He almost glowed as he told me about picking out the next movie from the library every week. I’m pretty sure he got more out of his “travels” than some people who have actually gone. I don’t think happy memories are dependent on how many spectacular things you can do for your kids. They spring from doing what you can and doing it with love.
That list I kept on the refrigerator? I still have it. I’m revamping it. “Play Candyland” can be struck off, thank goodness. Driving practice is making an appearance. But looking it over, surprisingly little needs to be changed. Read a book, dance to music, ride your bike, make smoothies in the blender, visit thrift stores, play mini golf – all still good suggestions for summer fun at any age.