Summer’s here and the mosquitos are
a-biting. My poor Thomas is covered in huge, swollen welts all over. They
blister, and he gets a fever. My no-DEET policy is out the door, as we’re way
beyond peppermint oil treatments. It’s making the sunshine harder to enjoy.
We finished school in May, and until the mosquitos came, it was a nice, mellow few weeks. The kids rush outside to unlock the chickens, and end up reading on a swing, or getting on their bikes. Our street is quiet, so it’s a peaceful kind of play.
But now the mosquitos and the heat are hitting, and I’m seeing more of them. They run back inside, sweaty and thirsty. Some are content to sit on the couch and read, but one or two end up pacing the hallway, harassing siblings as they pass by. There’s a constant request for setting up lemonade stands, which means getting out sunscreen, piles of spare change, and cleaning up the mess that’s left behind.
I remember the kind of boredom that summer break can bring when you’re too young to get a job, but too old to play dolls. I would get up and just hang around. One summer I watched the movie Beaches every morning. I don’t think we owned any other VHS movies. By September I knew the script, and could sing every Bette Midler song.
I tried a lemonade stand once, with a friend down the street. I only had orange juice to contribute. No one wanted orange juice in the dead heat, so it just sat there getting warmer and warmer. We went inside and practised fire safety drills instead. I jumped out of my friend’s second-storey window at the sound of a pretended fire alarm and got slight whiplash when I landed.
Nintendo took up an entire summer. I played Super Mario Brothers until I started having nightmares of Mario and Luigi. That’s what unlimited screen time can do, I guess.
Once, a friend and I bussed down to Playland. After roller-coasting ourselves physically sick, we met boys who wanted to show us how they could stop the cars in the dark of the haunted house. We declined the offer; somehow it didn’t seem honourable.
My hopes for the kids’ summer break are a little higher than murky orange juice and jumping out of windows. I think the time off school work is a blessing, “For everything there is a season.” Some eager moms might plod through with extra projects and enforced schedules.
I’ve tried a bit of that, but have come to a place of contentment in allowing them space to let their brains lie fallow. I also enjoy seeing their natural instincts to learn, without reports attached. But this still leaves the possibility for wasted, “Bette Midler” kind of time. And that’s when the word intentional comes into play.
I find that intentionally living out summer break can bring about a lot more than just survival. The time can be one of blessing. I’m not fond of over-scheduling kids in tons of groups and clubs. But there are ways to make their time purposeful.
1. Join up with a summer reading club. Prizes can be a huge motivator for kids. But literature and stories have a power that we underestimate, so make time at the library an opportunity for blessing. Search out booklists that are known for quality and virtue. I use booklists like Honey for a Child’s Heart, A Mother’s List of Books, and the suggestions at the end of Michael O’Brien’s Landscape of Dragons.
2. Let the kids set up shop. Lemonade stands, lawn mowing, newspaper routes – they can be a pain, but there are so many opportunities for learning.
3. Let them spend some of that cash. Plan outings to fairs, waterslides, or movie nights, and let them treat.
4. Let them get sweaty – bike rides, summer passes to the pool, hikes, campouts in the back yard, but preferably in the bush. Let them plant a garden. Remember, they don’t always need mom’s supervision.
5. Encourage new hobbies, try a sport camp, or get some art supplies. Summer can be a time of creating and discovering talents and callings. Older kids can volunteer at summer camps and gain so much in terms of virtue, and skill.
The final suggestion that I offer in such limited space is to make time in the beautiful laziness of summer to teach your kids to pray. The longer mornings can be an opportunity to develop the habit of devotion. Say Morning Offerings before heading to the beach, use devotionals, head to morning Mass, and adoration on Fridays.
I find that so much of Catholic life centres around the word intentional. All growth in holiness has moments that are led by a natural instinct to learn, but without intention, the fallow field lies forever without growth.