It only took me losing my cool for my kids to be convinced they could make their own fun. In one of those tirades that we parents let loose from time to time (every weekend), I suggested to (yelled at) my two sons that perhaps it was time to turn off the TV and head outside. Right. Now.
“Only boring people get bored,” I called out in my best singsongy voice as I pushed them through the door. I then patted myself on the back and immediately returned to work (checked my social media feeds). A few minutes later, the mothering instinct kicked in, and I slipped outside to see how they were faring. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
My youngest, about eight at the time, was sitting on a rock in front of our house watching my oldest, then 10, as he made his way up and down the block, rolling a tire. Ethan had found it in the garage, pushed it out into the street, and now, like a scene out of some 1920s movie, was amusing himself by seeing how far he could make it roll. They were calling out instructions to each other, strategizing and laughing. My laptop stayed inside, forgotten, as I watched them have the best time ever. With the slightest push, they had rediscovered their imaginations. And in the process, we were reminded just how fantastic it feels to simply have time—uninterrupted, unstructured, slower than dial-up Internet time.
50 essential summer activities
We do nothing not nearly enough. Even a decade ago my anecdote would not have been anecdote-worthy. But life has sped up to the extent that it often feels like every moment is accounted for by a scheduled must-do or a social media ping: Eat now, work now, study now, play now. Retweet, like, post, pin. Our kids are watching, and they’re doing it, too.
That afternoon was a sharp reminder that it’s our job as parents to fight time on their behalf. Kids have no idea what they’re giving up when they scroll through life, eyes glued to screens, watching other people have fun. Only we can be the guardians of their tire-rolling hours and protect their limited mud-pie-making days. We need to allow ourselves those seemingly indulgent moments when memory making takes precedence over kitchen tidying. We need to acknowledge those to-do lists won’t ever be finished. And recognize that the time we have with kids, whose imaginations are still open to new ideas, will slip away while we aren’t paying attention.
I sometimes catch myself unintentionally wishing I could sprint to the childhood finish line I don’t really want to reach. It sneaks up on me as I’m handing out freezies to neighbourhood kids or tearing apart cupboards in search of Star Wars Band-Aids (“But I want the Chewbacca one!”). I desperately wish I could grab my kids and step off the hamster wheel of obligations.
In those moments, I am acutely aware that I’m operating on borrowed time. Their childhoods won’t last forever. My role as chief planner and arbiter of justice (“Well, then, nobody gets the Chewbacca one!”) is temporary. They have one childhood. And we only get each summer with them once.
The tire rolling was the summer of 10, and in the blink of an eye we’ll be at the summer of 15. Wasting any day would be a shame, but wasting one of those golden summer days when their eyes still light up for simple pleasures would be a travesty.
Summer memories don’t have to be built on pricey trips or complicated excursions. You can have an amazing summer without quitting your day job or selling your possessions. We can choose to (and teach our kids to) find the joy in those pockets of time that would otherwise feel routine (the daycare drop-off, the Sunday afternoon lull, the dinner prep). We can switch our “here we go again” attitude for a “feels like vacation” mindset.
We may not be able to stop the steady march of time, but we can slow it down. Make this your summer to remember. Turn a lunch into a picnic or a sunny day into a water war. Pick up the baseball. Put down the phone. Step into the sprinkler. Laugh out loud instead of typing it, and chances are your kids will do the same. I guarantee you’ll remember it in the years to come.