“Which summer camps are your kids doing this year?” friends ask me. “None,” I reply. “We’re mostly meeting up with friends, spending time together and exploring our local area.” My response is usually followed by blank stares of shock and judgement. (Technically, my older daughter did one week of Girl Scout camp and both my girls are doing a four-day dance camp in August. But that’s it for us with camps this summer.)
I am officially fatigued and just plain mind-boggled with all the planning and searching and activity-creating and crafting and oh-you’ve-got-to-enroll-your-kids-in-this-class urgency that is shoved down our throats not only during the school year, but now during summer breaks. And don’t get me started about “academic summer school” for 7 year olds. I’m not sure if this is exclusive to where I live in Los Angeles or if parents in the central San Joaquin Valley feel the same, but it seems like there’s too much of everything all the time.
Like most of my peers, here’s what I did on my childhood summer breaks: I watched TV. I did cartwheels with my sister outside. I spent all day in the pools of neighborhood friends and cousins. I made homemade snow cones with this cheap ice-shaving machine my mom bought from the old Gottschalks (she let us put as much syrup as we wanted).
I remember feeling free. I remember laughing. I remember happiness. There was no stress and no schedule. We woke up in the morning and did what we felt like that day. Throw in a family vacation to Santa Cruz and a handful of those academic worksheets at the end of August (to review what we learned the previous school year) and that was summer. Summer was a break.
As an adult I now know that lazy time wasn’t a loss -- it helped me develop independence, learn coping skills (ie: figuring out something to do if I found myself feeling “bored”) and also spend precious time at home (with my parents ... gasp!) which bonded us all as a family. Just because kids are booked in back-to-back activities, are constantly entertained by others and are ‘having fun’ doesn’t necessarily mean all is great.
Every teacher and child development expert I’ve interviewed tells me the same tragic thing: Kids are becoming so used to “being on a program” they have no idea how to self-regulate, how to self-start, how to entertain and/or think for themselves unless someone else is telling them how and when to play what. So why are so many of us trading the power to recharge during lazy summers for constant stimulation that, in the end, is making so many of our kids more anxious?
I’m also taking the reality of having “18 summers with my kids” seriously to spend time with them (even though some days are hectic and just plain hard) instead of enrolling them into activities to keep them busy and out of the house. I want to get to know my kids and I want them to get to know me – I’m hoping the more time I spend goofing off with them at the ages they are now (7 and 6), the more likely we’ll continue to be close during their teen years and beyond.
Let’s challenge ourselves to do more of nothing, together as families. Whether this means a spontaneous, mid-morning road trip in our pajamas or eating ice cream sundaes for dinner one night for the heck of it (please don’t tell my husband that’s what we did when he was late at the office), so be it.
Doing nothing is fun. I promise.
Jill Simonian was born and raised in Fresno and is creator of TheFabMom.com. She is author of the book ‘The FAB Mom’s Guide: How to Get Over the Bump & Bounce Back Fast After Baby’ for first-time pregnancy. Connect with Jill on Facebook and Instagram @jillsimonian.