Recently, I received a letter from a friend who said she was sitting on her front steps in Northern Minnesota, watching the birds flit from flower to flower. The live-in grandmother of 9 grandchildren, the grandmother of 11 more grandchildren, my friend was lamenting the end of summer when she says, “in Minnesota, the end of summer means winter is not far away.” Another friend wrote from Mexico that she and her family were spending the last few days of their month in Mexico, spending time simply being with with her family and enjoying some time by herself, and as she puts it, “managing life without other obligations other than living.” As summer’s end is within sight, we still have time to enjoy simply being, before the pace of life and the obligations increase.
Nearly three months ago, schools all around the Bay area let out for summer vacation. In just two weeks, many children will head back for another school year, yet we still have some time to enjoy summer vacation. In our family, we started the summer off with some great plans, and have had an active, busy summer. As we vacation winds down, we still have time to make this summer memorable. What are some ways that we can the remainder of summer?
Brainstorm Ideas. Talk with your children about what creative ideas they have for spending the rest of summer. Ask what they would like the family to do, they would like to do themselves, and what they might like to do with their friends and playmates. Let everyone in the family have choices about what they want to do by themselves, with the family, and with friends or other family members (grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles). For example, Mom might like a night to go to the movies with her friends while the rest of the family stays home. Or your grandchild might long for some time to just ‘hang out’. Ask your grandchild/child what that means to them, and they will tell you. For example, my granddaughter and I chose to pack a picnic and head to the nearest park for our last afternoon together. We spread out a blanket, nibbled on our lunch, and talked about life. She did cartwheels on the grass, and we had some quiet, time to talk. I have found that some of our most special conversations happen as we are walking around town, waiting for a tram, or sitting on a blanket having a picnic.
Having special time together with our children and grandchildren, even if it is sharing a sandwich and bag of carrot sticks, can be some of the most special time. And for grandparents, setting aside special time with our children can also be very rewarding, for everyone. I had the opportunity this summer to spend some quality time with my daughter. We set aside a special time at the beginning of the trip and near the end of my trip to have time together.
Some simple ways to consider when making plans, at the end of the summer or any other time.
Flexibility. Make plans, but stay flexible. Getting wedded to plans over enjoying the process of living can create unnecessary conflict and stress. If plans do not work out, get used to seeing the gifts in the garbage. When plans fall through, be ready to see the benefit of having some extra time. When school starts up, there are enough deadlines and obligations; make this period a more relaxing time.
Slow Down. Learn how to slow down. If you do not know how to slow down, try a meditation walk. Here’s how to do it. Select a spot that is approximately a 5 minute walk from where you are. With that destination in mind, take a walk. When you reach your destination, turn around and retrace your steps, slowing down to half your pace. Notice the difference in how you feel and what you notice. This simple meditation exercise gives you and your children and grandchildren practice in mindfully slowing down.
Be Creative and Resourceful: This is a great time of year to stock up on supplies and resources for art projects. The back-to-school specials allow you to get paint, notebooks, crayons, different types of paper, and other supplies for art projects. Also summer is a great time to do some outdoor art projects (leaf prints, plein aire painting, sketching and drawing, and photography). Write poetry and short stories based on your summer activities or current interests. Write letters and postcards to send to one another from your favorite summer desitinations. Draw or paint a mural.
Limit Choices. Rather than outlinning a long string of events, give a couple of choices for each day. For example, we can go to the park and have a picnic, or we can take the Bart to the Zoo.
Allow for unscheduled, unprogrammed time. Again, allow for time when your children and grandchildren are not programmed or scheduled. We live in a time when our schedules have become tyrants running our lives. Unplug, unschedule, set aside some time, even some days where nothing is planned. Just like we helped our children learn to be self soothing and self directed when they were younger, we need to allow them time to structure their own time and learn to live with space in their lives. Whenever I used the word “boring” when I was a child, my Mother found a chore for me to do. Sometimes the chore was fun, sometimes not. The idea of being bored has never been a part of my vocabulary; there is always something I can find to do. It is a gift to learn to fill in our own time.
Take time to rest. We all need rest, and when it is time to get ready to go back to school, it is important to start preparing for a change in sleeping patterns. Slow yourself down, and make some space in your calendar, so you can be with your children and grandchildren. Model the behavior of relaxing, resting, and taking good care of yourself. If they only see a frazzled, harrassed parent or grandparent, that is what they are learning to become.
Head out to the Library. Take some time to enjoy reading together. Read some seasonal books, poetry and short stories (to inspire your own poetry and short story writing), and introduce your children and grandchildren to authors, books, and characters that you enjoyed as a child. Read some of the books your grandchildren are reading, and find books you can read together. Explore a new subject and/or place. Have a special day to celebrate another culture. Learn about the culture, cook up a new recipe from the culture, and celebrate learning something new together.
Go for a Moonwalk. Check out the book, Owl Moon, read it, and go for your own moon walk. Summer nights there are still meteor showers, and clear skies. Enjoy stargazing, and discover the thrill of finding a constellation.
Camp Out. If you can, go for an overnighter at a local State or National Park. If you cannot manage that, camp out in your background or your living room. Children love making tents, and sleeping on the floor in their sleeping bags.
Let go of the idea of being the perfect family or providing the perfect summer vacation. Enjoy life yourself, and cultivate habits, traditions, and ways to spend your time together. Learn how to be together alone as well. It’s a skill that comes in handy later in life. I can read a book while my granddaughter is playing dolls or painting. I can be making doll clothes while she is reading and drawing. Do what you enjoy, and learn something new to share with your children and grandchildren. For example, you might try out a new recipe, or take a walk to a new destination. You may enjoy sitting in on a ballet reherarsal or putting on a play for the family. Let your imagination run wild, and relax into the last few weeks of summer vacation. Let Autumn be a time when you can look back and discover a bunch of new memories from a relaxing, fun summer.