How to Fail at Summer

This summer, we tried something different with our girls.  Rather than schedule them within an inch of their lives at camps and other enriching activities, we planned one short trip, one two-week camp experience each and a WHOLE LOT of down time. My theory was that kids need some time to get bored, and in that boredom, new interests and passions and friendships are forged. That's how it worked for me, anyway. I found friends on my street and we played outside all day. Or I spent the summer trying to wrangle invitations to swim at other people's houses. (We didn't have a pool.) It was the unstructured time that let me find myself.  And by the time school came around again, I was SO HAPPY to be going back.  I thought it might work the same way for Katherine (14) and Jane (11.)

Yeah, you can already tell this isn't going to end well, can't you?

After the first week of 12-hour daily internet usage and slothdom, I really couldn't stand it anymore. I mean, we have this fabulous pool in the backyard, my husband bought a boat this summer, and we live in this adorable village with lots to do and my kids were inside the house, sitting on their rear-ends, totally plugged into various electronic devices. It's been shown that physical exercise is a part of healthy brain development, not to mention a good combatant for hormonal craziness, and I couldn't get my kids to DO ANYTHING.

So, then I came up with a different plan.

Each morning, I unplugged the internet and went to yoga from 9:30 -11:00.  When I got home, I taught the girls a beginner yoga class from 11:30 (ish) to 12:45 (ish) and if they hadn't complained TOO much, I plugged the wifi back in and let them have their way with screen-time. (Lest you think I've totally lost my control freak tendencies, we have very rigid filters on our router to prevent the girls from straying into anything too sordid or scary.) Since I was so tired after all that yoga, I had a big nap and then we all met back up after dark for our latest obsession: Dr. Who episodes streamed through Amazon Prime.
Perhaps I would have had more success if I'd geared the class toward Thomas. Fat Cat Yoga (TM)

This lasted for about three or four weeks, and then Jane flatly refused to do any yoga ever again. I think this was at least partly my fault, because I wasn't very patient with all of the fooling around the girls did during yoga, especially the conversations and the fake falling down. I wanted them to take it seriously, but that sort of squashed the fun out of it for the Hurricane. (Katherine found she really likes yoga, but she doesn't like my music. We still do yoga together about once a week and she brings her own music. You can really work up a sweat to Zombie.)

So, since then, it's been a real struggle to get the girls to get in a minimum of exercise --a minimum of LIVING-- before getting on their various screens.  Most days, Jane swam laps in the pool, and Katherine, who has a newfound aversion to swimming (even though, truly, she is a breathtaking swimmer,) has given me an apathetic 30 minutes on the exercise bike.  Both girls played softball at the beginning of the summer and have done the occasional bike ride and in Katherine's case, long-boarding (which is a type of skateboard riding.)
Katherine rocking out on the new uke.

We did some other fun day trips and activities (Jane is becoming an avid golfer and Katherine has taken her guitar playing to a whole new level, plus she purchased and mastered the ukulele in about three weeks!) but I can't help but feel like my girls missed a valuable opportunity this summer.  I don't think I'm saying that because my own summers were so different and so much more active. I THINK I'm saying it because the clock is ticking and there aren't that many of these kinds of summer left to my kids before they'll be shackled to a computer and a desk for real.

As for MY summer, it was a mixed bag.  On the plus side, I got to go to yoga an average of five times per week, which has led to a whole new level of fitness for me. (I've now been taking yoga with Yvonne for ten months.  I've lost about ten pounds, but I've gone down SIX dress sizes.  This is not your grandma's yoga.) Katherine and I are closer than we've ever been, which is so miraculous and so NOT what I expected when she turned 14, that I find myself overwhelmed with gratitude.  (And hopeful that Jane and I will get there, too.) I began writing again after a significant period of time when I just kind of didn't, which was a relief. On the negative side, I STILL don't have my forearm stand, I've had some chronic stomach troubles, and I spent an unbelievable amount of time trying to figure out how to address my family's disparate culinary tastes/needs.  There is so little overlap --it's really discouraging. (More about that in another post.)
Now if I could just hold it for longer than a nanosecond.

School starts on Thursday for us and I feel a little melancholy. In the end, I guess I feel like I could have done better at planning this summer for my kids. Maybe we all really did need a quiet summer to recharge and regroup, but it felt pretty unfocused and like we lost a bit of our momentum.  I don't think we'll do this again --not to this extent anyway. I am already planning for weeks of various camps for next summer.
They look pretty happy, though.


Sarah said…
Your kids will remember the "boring summer of yoga." This is not a bad thing. I'd venture it's a good thing. Are they happy to be going back to school?
smalltownme said…
My 16 year old son had some down time between trips, for the first time in 4 years! I think he got a little bored, but it was a nice change for him.
Unknown said…
It took my boy until the last couple of weeks of summer break before finding his "tribe" in the neighborhood. It is harder for him since he doesn't go to the local elementary.

I think Sarah is right they will remember this summer fondly and with humor.
momwhoknits said…
My boys (16 and 13) put a kibosh to the whole summer organization thing about 3 years ago. Because I work outside the home, the screen time began to wear on me, in that I came home and nothing had happened. So now they have chores to do (a list that I left on the microwave every morning), they have to get at least one hour of exercise a day (for the oldest, it was working out, as he has a gym membership and the youngest had bike riding and he learned to long board)and then they were free to do whatever - which mostly involved screen time. This year, I STRONGLY encouraged the older son to get a job, but to be fair he went to summer school to get a grade 12 credit (in my day, you went to summer school if you failed, not to get ahead. Different world....)And they had to plan dinner and prepare it. They had to give me the ingredients the Saturday before, and then they were responsible for preparing. We ate some...odd things, but at least I know they can survive on their own. I am still not happy with the screen time - but providing the other stuff got done, at least it minimized the arguing (I have budding lawyers in our house). Not sure that it is any better than organizing camps and lessons, but my house was clean(ish), we had dinner plans and they got exercise.
Mokihana said…
Ahh... summertime was so different when I was a kid. Nothing to plug in at all, except a radio.

I rode my horse, swam in the ocean, went sailing with my dad and brother in our Mercury, played kickball or softball or whatever with the neighborhood kids. Went ti-leaf sliding. Picked wild guavas. Hiked up the trails in the Ko'olau Mountains. Rode my bike with my friends.

It didn't get better than that, and we never went on vacation. We lived in paradise... who needed one? (Well, maybe my parents!)
Mokihana said…
Oh, I forgot. And I read. A lot.
Everyone needs a little structure to make the boring part more appealing. Sounds like you worked your way to a reasonable balance!

I've seen teen girls who sail through the hormonal storms of adolescence quite smoothly, maintaining beautiful relationships with their parents. And I've seen otherwise, too. Sometimes in the same family! I really think the changes they go through affect each girl's brain differently.
Anonymous said…
Ohmygoodness hilarious!!! Our summer was a poop sandwich. Lame-lame-lame. I don't know what my problem was.
Bullwinkle said…
I just spent a year (o.k. 11 mo) being unstructured. I don't think I have nothing to show for it (see: happy well-behaved puppy, gorgeous gardens, and far less-stressed me). But I don't think I like the unstructured time - it is hard to focus. There are too many ways to be pulled into distractions. And far too many distractions - it's constantly fighting against the tide vs sailing my own boat.
Anonymous said…
I hate the idea of a programmed summer. In my mind, summer is a time to relax by the pool, and regroup. Kids are programmed enough already.