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My Summer Mom Manifesto (kind of like a bucket list, but with more holes)

by Sarah Powers on June 10, 2013

This post is by Sarah Powers, Happiest Home contributor and Managing Editor, and blogger at Powers of Mine.

little boy looking at turtle in PetSmart, summer activities for kids

Last week I took all three kids – ages 5, 3, and 4 months – to buy dog food. It was the kind of errand I try to avoid these days – one where I had to go to one specific store to buy one specific product and schlep all of us in and out of 110° heat just for a bag of kibbles. I wasn’t thrilled about it.

The upside (and here’s a pro tip for all you newish moms out there) was that the pet store is just as exciting as the zoo for the toddler and preschool crowd. My kids love looking at the hamsters and frogs in their cages and watching the dogs in the “doggie daycare” run around in circles. They got extra lucky this time, though, when the sweetest college kid of a store clerk named Mike offered to take out a few creatures and let my kids hold and pet them.

They were in heaven (especially when my dragon-obsessed 3-year-old learned that one of the lizards was a REAL DRAGON). Mike spent a good 10 minutes interacting with the kids and letting them experience the animals. By the time we left the store we had huge smiles on our faces, stories to tell, and a great summer memory to tuck away – all from a Friday afternoon trip to the pet store.

I’ve written here before about how I’m uncomfortable with the notion that we have to try really hard to “make memories” for our kids, how my own childhood memories aren’t of spectacular events but rather a collection of quieter moments, inside jokes, and subtle patterns that evolve and repeat with each season. So while I love the idea of “summer bucket lists” and the intention behind them, my personal style is a little more laissez faire (or maybe it’s lazy mom!).

Going into this summer, I’m trying to leave space for the pet store trips that turn into a science lesson. I’m seeking a balance between the structure that will keep me sane and the freedom that will allow us to have fun at our own pace. With an infant who screams in the car (if you missed our Facebook discussion on this, it’s pretty funny…and I can say that because it’s my screaming baby in the photo), I’m planning our outings very judiciously. I think we’ll be home a lot. I’m pretty sure there will be a lot of couch forts and movie marathons.

On the flip side, I do love the idea of starting a new season with intention. I don’t want to wake up mid-August and realize I have a kindergartener (WHAT.) who asked all summer to go to the Children’s Museum and never got to go. I don’t want to be so laid-back and schedule-free that we miss opportunities for fun and learning. And I know that without some planning, we’ll start to get more than a little tired of couch forts and movie marathons.

So instead of a bucket list, this year I made something a little looser – more of a “summer mom manifesto.” These are things I want to do this summer – but not in a cross-‘em-off-a-list kind of way. It’s a reminder to myself that this season will pass so quickly – as do they all – and that I have an opportunity to make it special in my own way.

Here’s my summer mom manifesto:

summer mom manifesto:  This summer I want to…  …give my children space to play. Preferably with dirt. And bubbles. …relax my standards without giving them up entirely. TV serves a wonderful purpose at times, and, at times, it's downright essential. …find unexplored corners of our community. Even if it just means going to a different Target. …remember that "enrichment" comes naturally to curious children. I don't have to seek it out, sign us up for it, or pay a premium to get it. …make things as a family. Like salsa from the garden. Like pancakes for dinner. Like memories of a road trip gone wrong. …sing to my babies while they'll still let me. …escape the pressure to be Nice Camp Counselor Mommy all the time. Summertime will have its grumpy moments, too. …travel through books to places familiar to me yet foreign to them. Plum Creek. Zuckerman's Farm. Maybe Hogwarts. …forgive myself in advance for forgetting the sunscreen once in a while.  …let the natural rhythm of the season guide our days. Baths in the afternoon, naps on the couch, early morning walks around the block. …take the long view. We don't have to Do All The Fun Things this year. Or ever.  This summer I want to tell stories, hold hands, make jokes, kiss owies, and wish on stars. The memories will take care of themselves.

What do you think of my list? What would you add to yours? Are you a bucket list person or not? I’d love to hear your summer plans and how you plan to spend your time with your family!

PS: If you liked this post, Meagan has a ton of great summer-themed posts in the archives, many centered around the idea of a low-key and fun-filled break. One of my favorites is this: My recipe for an un-busy summer evening.

PPS: Thank you, Mike at PetSmart. You were extraordinary with my children. You are going to make a great dad/uncle/professional lizard wrangler one day.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Shell June 10, 2013 at 9:18 am

Oh, I love this. Especially forgiving yourself in advance for sometimes forgetting the sunscreen. I’m awful at that. I try, but well, we’re outside a lot.

I had to make a bucket list because I have found that I was way too laid back about it all in years past and we’d get to the end of the summer and my boys would have all these questions about why we didn’t do this or that.


Sarah Powers June 10, 2013 at 1:22 pm

Haha, Shell, here in AZ we have to be really diligent about sunscreen, but still I think I need a free pass sometimes. Vitamin D, right? :)

And I can see real summer bucket lists in my future – when the kids are a bit older and we can really get out and do stuff and enjoy it. Have a happy summer!


Rachel Ambler June 10, 2013 at 9:40 am

“Yes” to every single one! We’re still a ways off Summer vacation here in England (not til end of July!) but this gives me something to look forward to.

One thing I’d add would be a reminder to myself to communicate what I need the kids to do to help me out rather than expecting them to be mind-readers. And along with that to spend time working together – alas the chores still have to be done.


Sarah Powers June 10, 2013 at 1:23 pm

Oh, that’s such a good point about chores. My older two are getting to an age where they are able to help more – and you’re so right that communicating on the front end helps feeling grumpy about it later. Very wise. Happy summer to you!


Claire June 10, 2013 at 10:48 am

I love your list! I am more of a bucket-list type of person, but that’s due to my personality (planner, type A, etc). I’m always afraid that if I don’t make a list, I’ll be the mom who forgets to take the kids to the museum they asked for. But my unconscious list, which includes taking time to stop and smell the roses, gets plenty of attention too!


Sarah Powers June 10, 2013 at 1:24 pm

Claire, that’s so funny, because in so many ways I am very Type A, too (just as Meagan how we work together!). But I find I’m more Type A and list/task-oriented in the short-term (like, what do I need to get done TODAY and this week), where I’m not a very good long-term visionary planner, which is more where bucket lists fall I think. Interesting to think about, though. :)


Annie June 10, 2013 at 10:53 am

I like your take on summer. Always helpful to set up expectations AND be happy about it. Great tips!


Sarah Powers June 10, 2013 at 1:24 pm

Thanks, Annie!


lynne June 10, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Wow this manifesto is absolutely perfect! We also have a lot of work to do this summer, fixing up our new fixer-upper house, so I just want to remember to give the kids enough of my attention :-)


Jamie June 10, 2013 at 11:53 pm

YES, Hogwarts! I have a son who will be 5 in September and we are just about finished reading the first Harry Potter book. He did really, really well keeping up with it and it is an awesome way for us to connect, something that had been a challenge. I’ve read most of it to him, though I did download the audio book from our library and we listened to a few chapters in the car. It was helpful for me to hear someone else read at least some of it for all the names.


Kathleen June 11, 2013 at 7:16 am

Great list! My son (5-years-old) also loves the pet stores. And I agree about summers – while of course there are a few places I really want to get to, I also want him to enjoy just running through the spirinkler, riding his bike, rainy day movie days, etc. I think being more relaxed schedule wise makes summer feel more like, well, summer. I think your list is perfect and the memories will come.

Also, Jamie, I a going to have to give Harry Potter a try – I was waiting another year or so with my son, but it seems like your really enjoyed it.


Pam June 11, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Thank you for this……I’m more than a bit daunted by the prospect of the next 3 months (I have a 3 and 4 year old). I cling to structure with little ones….and am not always a self-starter, so the “school year” has really been a godsend for me. Summer life….while promising….leaves me terrified. Thanks for the perspective and for making me not feel so alone.



Cathy June 12, 2013 at 9:10 am

Hi Sarah! What a great list! I always seem to end up making a specific list that is more complicated and then I’m disappointed in myself at the end of every summer because it was unrealistic. We always make the summer seem like such a huge thing, but in reality, it’s really not that long. And what I’ve stopped doing now, is actually telling the kids what we’ll do that summer, because then you end up disappointing yourself AND the kids. I’m going to try to be more laid back this year. Thanks for the post!


priest's wife (@byzcathwife) June 12, 2013 at 1:46 pm

our plan is this- 30 minutes of schoolish stuff, no screentime until after lunch and one fun activity (make lemon bars, go to park, go swimming) that I plan a day- the rest is doing their chores as usual, reading and playing with Lego


Rowell June 19, 2013 at 9:49 am

You bring up a great idea. As a new parent (I have a 2 yr old) you have inspired me to make a “summer bucket list”.

It’s a great way to plan the summer and get family time in there to make memories.

Ill be posting something similar on my blog. Thanks for sharing!


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