Surviving the 4 Stages of Summer Break

by Jennifer Goforth Gregory

Surviving the 4 Stages of Summer Break

Each year is a little different, but every summer break in our house seems to fall into the same four stages.

I spent my summers growing up swimming at the pool, going on picnics at the park near my house, and hanging with friends at day camp. So I had a somewhat romanticized version of what summer vacation would be like with my kids. I forgot (or didn't realize) that someone had to keep the kids from drowning at the pool, make the sandwiches for the picnic and remember in freezing February to register for the popular camps. And that someone would be me.

Each summer is different—my kids get bigger, their friends change and I now work from home. But after eight summers as a mom of school-aged kids, I've noticed summer breaks have a typical pattern, and I often amuse myself watching the stages of summer progress.

Stage 1: Lazy Days of Summer

The month of May is a blur for us as school and sports seasons rush to a close with end-of-the-year parties, teacher's gifts and awards ceremonies. Summer vacation is a relief to everyone—no more alarm clocks, lunches to pack and homework to assist. My kids are tired. I am tired. Everyone needs a break.

So we slack off and let the lazy days roll in. The kids spend hours building forts in the living room and hanging out under the sheets watching way more television than I'm going to put in print. We play board games, hang out and have the conversations that never happened while rushing from event to event during the previous few weeks. It's possible that sometimes we stay in pajamas all day. And while I won't actually admit that I ever let Doritos pass as lunch, I can't truthfully deny it either. Sure, we go to the park a few times and head to the pool with friends occasionally. But our goal is to mainly do nothing, hang around the house and enjoy each other. I tell myself that this can last all summer. It's relaxing and enjoyable…

Stage 2: T-Minus How Many Days?

…until it's not. The tide shifts quickly. One year it happened during an episode of "Good Luck Charlie." The bickering starts—mine and theirs. The boredom sets in, and the pillow fort in the living room is no longer creativity at work, but just clutter. Everyone starts to smell, and pajamas are no longer cute. I pull out the calendar and actually count the 38 days until they go back to school, and panic sets in. Then comes the guilt because I know the years go fast, and I said I would never be the kind of mom that counted the days till they go back to school. But I am, and that makes it worse.

I lose my cool. I invite other kids over. I enroll my kids in the only camp that has an opening—not caring that it means spending every minute they're not with me driving across town. But at least there's silence in the backseat. I plan elaborate trips to kid's museums, playgrounds and anything else I can find. It fills the time, but nothing really solves it. The guilt to enjoy these days is overwhelming. This summer thing just isn't that much fun anymore.

Stage 3: Finding Our Groove

Then a subtle change happens. I'll miss it if I'm not paying attention. The bickering lessens, and we strike a balance. Some days we hang around the house, and sometimes we go on outings, but there's an air of fun in our plans instead of desperation. We always get dressed, and Doritos are off the menu. Most days we meet a group of friends, moms and kids, at the pool. It becomes our "thing," along with Popsicles, lots of Popsicles. The days have a rhythm. The kids actually start to do their summer reading without prodding (at least occasionally), and I even find them playing Monopoly together. Of course, the peace only lasts 17 minutes until my daughter accuses my son of being a bank robber, but it's a start. Some days I even feel like a supermom.

Stage 4: Back to School Panic

Some years it's a robo call from school. Other years, it's a parent mentioning Meet the Teacher Day. But something always jolts me back to reality. The day I thought I couldn't wait for is 10 days away, and I haven't done a thing to get ready. I beg the doctors and dentists to squeeze us in. The days are full of haircuts and a lot of shopping—for shoes, clothes, the perfect backpack and the dreaded school supplies trip that's guaranteed to bring me to tears. It's exciting and busy, and I can't decide if I'm happy or sad.

Then the day comes. The obligatory school pictures in front of the fireplace are taken. The annual first day of school pancake breakfast is devoured. And they are off to their day. The truth is, I'm both happy and sad. I get more work done, and the house stays clean. But as the school day nears its end, on a whim I pull out the sheets, just in case they want to eat dinner in the fort for old times take.