Hamster Wheel

Hamster Wheel

From late August through mid-June, when the school year is in full swing, I generally feel like I am running on a hamster wheel. I run nonstop, fearful that if I stop, or even attempt to slow down, I will fly off haphazardly, crashing and leaving everything around me in disarray – and we all know who would have to clean up that mess. So I just keep running. To insert obstacles into the race, I add more and more to my agenda as I run because (A.) I don’t like to say no and (B.) I can always make time for one more good idea. I will just run a little bit faster. I run and run and run, from meeting to class to soccer practice to church to basketball games to volunteer commitments to the next project that I have created for myself to another meeting, and sometimes I wonder what it is like to *Just. Sit. Still.*

And this is where I am a little bit lucky. As a teacher, I am fortunate to enjoy a summer break with my children, and, to be honest, given the current climate of education in America, it is one of the bright spots in a gloomy, depressing mess. But every year I fall prey to the same evil trap; it snags me in the dark winter months of hibernation and tightens its grip as the icy thaw reveals the promises of spring. It seems harmless at first, really. I begin to say things like, “It can wait; I will work on it this summer.” Or, “I don’t have time to worry about that right now, but I will have time to care about it in the summer.” Or, “I am really busy right now, but let’s get together this summer!” I will do it in the summer. I will fix it in the summer. I will check on it in the summer.

On my desk, there are post-it notes with lists of books to read this summer. I joined a book club in the spring – something that I have wanted to do for years – because summer vowed to bestow endless days of freedom that I could not possibly fill on my own. My kids created lists of activities that they intend to check off before the first day of school. And I said, “No problem! It’s summer!” My spring cleaning was never finished, and a general inventory of our house is in order. “No worries! We have all summer!” And the garage needs cleaned out. And I really want to learn to knit while I have time. And I have a chair that I want to refinish. And I have been waiting for the time to look for some new decorating ideas. And my photo albums are so far behind that I’m not sure what I was even trying to commemorate anymore. Just uploading and organizing and ordering all of those pictures will be a HUGE job . . . definitely a task to save for summer.

And we need to catch up on some doctor appointments this summer.

And I can’t wait to invest time in my blog every day!

And I am TOTALLY going to redeem myself as a mother by forcing encouraging my kids to keep up with their summer homework assignments this year.

And I told loved ones that we would spend time together, you know, in summer. The boys and I would have lunch with old friends. We would take road trips to visit those at a distance. We would meet neighbors at the park every week. We would have SO MUCH TIME!

So the fourth of July hit me with a bang last week, and not just because of the fireworks. It was a reminder that summer is slipping away, that the promises she made me remain unfulfilled. There really aren’t more hours in a summer day. More sunshine, yes. More hours, no. Life is still busy. With kids home from school, there are more messes to clean up, more snacks to prepare, more arguments to officiate, more activities to coordinate. Time does not decelerate in summer, just as it doesn’t slow down on the weekends or during a coveted week of vacation.

I have not read one book from my post-it notes. My blog has been quiet and lonely. My kids are dreadfully behind on their summer homework. My projects aren’t finished. (Or started.)

And I still don’t know how to knit.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m exceedingly grateful for the time that I can devote to my family when I am not working in the summer. I don’t take it for granted. But all of the lists, all of the unfinished projects, all of the tasks that remain incomplete and dreams that remain unfulfilled – well, they can drag a girl down. And, no, we have not been moping around the house, avoiding all of the fun. We have been having fun, and maybe that’s part of the problem. Or maybe it’s not. This whole balancing act is exhausting, and the truth is that after eleven years of parenting I’m still not exactly sure how this is all supposed to work.

Maybe I am lamenting how quickly time passes. The empty grid, those clean white boxes on the calendar that seem swollen with potential at the start of each year, fills in a flash with the exciting and, more often, the mundane demands of life. The days bend and flip and slide from your hands like a fish escaping back to the water. You try to hold on, but time is elusive, gone so quickly, and what is left behind? Maybe a picture . . . that might, eventually, find its way to a photo album . . . maybe.

Or maybe I am frustrated that I have not planned better, that I put so much off until summer in the first place. Maybe I am just venting my aggravation with myself – that I am not rising before dawn, that I have not maintained a structured plan for every hour like I do when the hamster wheel is in motion. I’m sure that I could have accomplished more by now if I had been more diligent. Then I would not be tormented by reminders of my lackadaisical attitude, like the remnants of fifth grade that my son unloaded several weeks ago, still neatly stacked in a corner. That’s what I should be doing right now – sorting piles instead of writing about them. No wonder I am a hot mess. And I’m pretty sure that I could have knit a sweater by now if I had my stuff together. 

Or maybe my go-go-go personality is just trying to process the potential of life outside the wheel. Although it fills me with anxiety, maybe there is joy in NOT living from a to-do list for a few days or, if you are fortunate, a few weeks. Maybe there is peace in NOT waking up to an alarm every single day. Satisfaction in NOT prioritizing the unimportant just to cross it off a list. Fulfillment in NOT planning the most efficient way to dissect the day but in allowing the day to unfold organically. Happiness in NOT accomplishing something but in enjoying something, instead.

As with so much of my life, I am still figuring it out, seeking balance, sorting through the different perspectives and emotions. Maybe your legs are aching, growing weary on the hamster wheel, as well. Maybe you can relate.

If you don’t have time to ponder it today, don’t worry. You will have more time this weekend.

That’s what she promises, anyway. But I wouldn’t trust her.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/28638538@N00/4182287774″>Hamster in a wheel</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

Brain Freeze? 100 Ideas for Summer Fun!

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HELLO, SUMMER!  Oh, how I dreamed about you through winter’s icy chill.  You and your gorgeous sunshine.  You and your endless blue skies.  You and your lush green grass and lazy evenings and beach vacations, all of the gifts that you bestow with the most delightful change of seasons.

Oh, yeah . . . And the bored children.  The kids who complain (by day two) that they have absolutely nothing to do.  I guess that’s your fault, too.  Oh, sweet seduction!  How you betray me!

Sure, there is plenty to do with the freedom of the summer months, but sometimes we all need some inspiration.  To help you out, my kids and I have created a list of 100 ideas to keep you and your kids busy this summer.  You can customize it to meet your own needs.  We like to create a bright poster where we can mark off the things that we do, and, although we call it our “Summer Fun” list, we work on our list all year and never, ever finish.  But that does not diminish the fun!  If you want a more realistic summer bucket list, reduce this.  Create your own poster, or write the ideas on popsicle sticks or paper strips and put them in a jar.

Do you have more ideas?  If so, please leave a comment!  Here we go . . .

1. Plan and record a parody or lip-sync video.  You know, like the ones you see on YouTube!
2. Build forts inside with sheets and clothes pins and anything else you can find.
3. Use toothpicks and mini-marshmallows or Dots candy to build things on a rainy day.
4. Make lemonade from scratch.  Set up a lemonade stand on the corner.
5. Watch a movie from the 1980’s.  Tell the kids what life in the 80’s was like.
6. Put glowing neon bracelets into plastic Easter eggs.  Hide them at night and enjoy a summer
egg hunt.
7. It’s pizza night!  Experiment with new crusts, sauces, and toppings.  Make a dessert pizza.
8. Build a fire.  Let the kids burn something from the school year that has passed.  Roast hot
dogs and marshmallows.  Make s’mores.  Talk.
9. If you have a dog, learn how to teach it new tricks.  Then teach it something!
10. Write down questions to prompt dinner conversation.  Who was your favorite teacher and
why?  What was the scariest moment of your life?  Put them in a jar.  Pull one out at dinner.
7165061308_697c37ab25_s11. Enjoy ice cream for dinner on a special day.  (We do this on Father’s Day each year!)
12. Create a neighborhood scavenger hunt with things to find (two friends talking, a black cat, a
garden gnome, an American flag, etc.) and then take a long walk to find them.  Make it a competition if you want to.
13. Play in a creek.  Catch crayfish.
14. Round up all the kids in the neighborhood and meet at school for a soccer game.
15. Too hot?  Go ice skating!  You will have the rink to yourselves!
16. Go bowling.  Look for opportunities for kids to bowl for free.
17. Check out your town’s Visitor’s Bureau.  What are you missing right where you live?
18. Plant tomatoes.  Make fresh salsa together when the tomatoes are ripe.
19. Play cornhole in the backyard.
20. Attend a sporting event of some kind – little kids, college students, or professional athletes.
7429267376_998b4294c5_s21. Grab a mason jar and catch fireflies at dusk.
22. Visit a farm.  Feed the chickens.  Ride a horse.  Talk to the farmer.
23. Play with puppies at the pet store or at an animal shelter.
24. Water fight!  Fill balloons and water guns!
25. Clean out closets and toys.  Decide where to donate them and deliver them together.
26. Be adventurous eaters.  Try a new restaurant.  Maybe it will become a family favorite!
27. Just a little adventurous?  Go to the family’s favorite restaurant, but agree that everyone
will order something they haven’t tried before.  Critique your meals like food critics.
28. Host relay races in your backyard.  Search for ideas online.
29. Sleep in tents – in the backyard or at a campground.
30. Spend a relaxing day at the pool.
2408439519_7cde12c9a3_s31. Ride a roller coaster.
32. Hold a baby.  Any baby.
33. Bake your favorite cookies.  Deliver some of them to someone who needs a hug.
34. Find a strange fruit or vegetable at the grocery store.  Buy it and try it!
35. Visit the grandparents.  Write questions in advance and interview them about their lives.
Write it all down or record the interviews.
36. Play flashlight tag.
37. Splurge.  Buy from the ice cream truck at least once.
38.  Record a “radio show.”  Include commercials, news, weather, and music.
39. Exercise together.  Train for a fun 5K, like a Color Run, and run together.
40.  Everyone gets a $5 bill to go to yard sales.  Who got the best deals?
15141499823_c6600b6bfd_s41. Play a classic yard game, like croquet or badminton.  (But no lawn darts!  Yikes!)
42. Go to a drive-in movie.
43. Create a scavenger hunt at the park.  Hide the clues and provide a surprise at the end.
44. Binge watch a series of movies, like Back to the Future or Jurassic Park.
45. Jump on a trampoline.
46. Visit a park.  Create a plan to visit a different park every week all summer.
47. Go for your longest family bike ride ever.
48. Jump in the car for a spontaneous road trip to visit a relative who lives a few hours away.
49. Join the summer reading program at the library.  Sign up for library activities, too.
50. When is the last time that you put a BIG jigsaw puzzle together?  Ready, set, GO!
21170004_5d71b9ee41_s51. Plant herbs in a pot.  Cook a meal together using the herbs you have nurtured.
52. Collect big cardboard boxes and duct tape.  Let the kids build whatever they can imagine
with only those supplies (and something to cut the tape) in the backyard.
53. Get out the paints.  Everyone loves to paint once in a while.
54. Raid the garage.  Use stuff that you find (pool noodles, hula hoops, etc.) to create an
obstacle course in the backyard.
55. Watch a movie that is considered a “classic.”  Talk about it.  What was the theme?
56. Family video game night!
57. Grab a towel and the sunscreen and head to the water park.
58. Buy an ant farm or a butterfly garden.  Keep a close eye on what happens there.
59. If your kids have been asking for a pet, summer is a great time to research.  Let the kids
study the costs, challenges, and benefits and report back to the family.
60. Volunteer at the food pantry or anywhere that will allow children to help.
5867179580_634f11768a_s61. Decorate a friend’s driveway with sidewalk chalk for a birthday or a “welcome home.”
62. Project a movie in the backyard.  Throw down blankets.  Invite kids.  Make popcorn.
63. Start a summer book club as a family, or start a summer book club with friends.
64. Meet mom and/or dad during their lunch break from work.  Eat out.
65. Visit a science museum.  On the way home, talk about what you learned.
66. Family board game night!  Each family member chooses a game.
67. Learn five words in a different language.  Use them in family dinner conversations. When
everyone has mastered those, learn five more.
68. Work together to plan a cookout.  Invite friends and neighbors.  Build community.
69. Go retro.  Go roller skating.
70. Cut postcards from empty boxes, like cereal boxes.  Write notes to friends and mail.
2404521703_46c451d819_s71. Go to the zoo.  If you go to the zoo often like we do, try something new there.
72. Raid the craft drawers.  Give the kids a bunch of supplies in a box and let them think
of a project.
73. Introduce the children to old-school television, like Night Rider or MacGyver or Alf.
74. Browse at the local farmer’s market. Buy fresh ingredients and talk about nutrition.
75. Play in the rain.  Enjoy every minute!
76. Attend a local theatrical production.
77. Let the kids write and illustrate a children’s book.  Read it to a younger child.
78. Try a new flavor of ice cream.  Better yet, make homemade ice cream!
79. Create cards for servicemen and women.  Mail them.
80. Invite the cousins to spend a few days at your house.  Play and laugh until it hurts.
3434902567_6cd15c1cda_s81.  Lie down on a blanket and study the clouds together.  Use your imagination!
82. Tie dye t-shirts.  It is not as hard as you might think.
83. Try a new recipe once a week.  Let the kids help.  Pretend you are on a cooking show.
84. Ride in a boat.
85. Start with a dart gun battle.  End with a pillow fight.
86. Watch a movie from the 1990’s.  Tell the kids how life in the 90’s was different.
87. Pack a picnic lunch.  Eat it in your own yard or at the park or in the woods.
88. Have the kids write a script and perform a short play for the grown-ups.  To make it harder,
give them a topic, a character name, and five words that they must include in the story.
89. Make a special effort to attend an event that will include lots of extended family.
90. Go to a movie on the first day that it opens.
5713936753_35c6ecca21_s91. Go for a hike in the woods.  Look for something specific like toads or tadpoles or Big Foot.
92. Go to a fun local festival.  Eat a funnel cake.
93.  Snuggle up and look at picture albums.  Tell stories about the kids when they were small.
Really nostalgic?  Watch home movies, including your wedding video.
94. Listen to live music.  Somewhere.  For free.
95. Go fishing.
96. Google search for simple science experiments.  Try some!
97. Pick berries.  Eat a few while you pick and a lot when you get home.  Make shortcake.
98. Learn about geocaching.  Try it!
99. It’s pajama day!  Don’t you dare put on “real” clothes!
100. Go to a history museum.  Look for something that starts with each letter of the alphabet while you are there.

 School's Out

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