We biked up to the beach, me and my crew of three, looking for a place to lock up.
"Woah," I heard Caroline mutter behind me. Her gaze was directed at the beach.
Woah is right. For covering every inch of sandy space on what we call the "big beach" was a quilt of brightly colored towels and a sea of people of every age exuding irrepressible joy.
But can you blame them? It is the last day of school after all. On an approaching 90 degree day when only 8 weeks prior these sparkly swimsuited individuals were donning thick coats to shovel out their driveways from the April snowstorm. You might be bouncing around too.
After circling for an empty pole to lock up our bikes, wading through the Tetris of claimed beach spots for a space big enough for our beloved rainbow beach blanket, and kicking off the sandals and cover ups, we didn’t waste another second. We ran into that cool water.
And so begins our summer.
Can you call something a ritual when it’s only happened twice? Of course you can. For here we are on our second year as a traditional school attending family and I have already declared summer does not begin until we have performed the official ritual of heading to the beach after school pick up. And then promptly getting ice cream. Because that’s what we did last year so that’s what we do every year.
Now looking around at the crowd I see we aren’t the only ones with this tradition.
Much of the last long weeks of winter are spent dreaming about this day, when schedules are free, when the sun is bright, when the beach is the only thing on the itinerary. And yet it still seems to sneak up on me. Part of that is I’m still new here, to Minnesota, to parenting a school age child, to parenting in general really. Almost 7 years into this gig and I am still trying to catch my footing. Adding another one to the mix last summer certainly didn’t help that. While it was a special summer, in many ways, it was also exhausting in so many ways. Come to think of it, so was the summer before that. Adding a baby, moving across the country, these are summer activities we have waded through the past two years that I do NOT expect to become part of our summer ritual.
With that in mind, I am tempted to set big expectation for this summer ahead of us. No packing and unpacking of boxes! No pregnant or postpartum body to fight through! Let’s do all of the things!
Yes, it is a new season of life, but I know this also means I need to be careful with my expectations. Summer is like a three month Christmas season with all of its presuppositions. I anticipated this last December and knew I needed to protect myself. Instead of goals and expectations, I set intentions for myself, peaceful visions to keep the right pace, rhythm, and grace-filled patience through an otherwise busy time. This served me well. I see summer as another season of life when I need to be more mindful, both for them but mostly for myself.
Today I share my summer intentions, not a tabulation of goals or bucket list to check off but rather a mindful practice to guide my days with grace. Perhaps you'll find some inspiration for your summer life ahead.
Create a Rhythm, but don’t give up if and when it collapses. I have a love/hate relationship with routines. They always sound wonderful in theory. But I often struggle to get them right or keep to them when they fail. I am learning that listening to the needs of our family, especially what times of day are best for energy levels sets me up for better success. I want to share more about this as I give our routine a practice to see what works and what doesn’t. But for now I am trying to keep the schedule simple and flexible but still stable for their wondering expectations. And when we get off track, which we will, I will not see it as a failure but rather a guide post to return back to.
Plan my personal time. If I am specific about anything in our schedule, I want to be specific about the things that matter most to me. This means that each week, perhaps even every morning, I will plan exactly when I write and when I exercise. I will WRITE IT DOWN and stick to this as best I can. Put my oxygen mask on first.
Pack a lunch each morning for kids. Summer days find us out every single morning. To keep our schedules flexible, and to keep hungry kids at bay, I find the days when I have lunch completely ready for them our days run much more smoothly. This makes it easier to be free when we are out to eat when they get hungry. And if we don’t eat when we are out, it is still one less thing I have to do when we return home and they are all complaining about being hungry.
Read more fun books. I want to tear through books like its 1991 and I can’t get though the latest Babysitter Club book fast enough. This means the lighter the content the better. Bring on all the rom-coms and YA novels.
Hang more laundry. This sounds like a horrible thing to have on a summer intention list. But the point to this one is to remember the simple things I actually like doing. Like craft projects with the kids or trying out new recipes. And hanging the laundry out on the line brings me joy, even if it takes more time. Simplicity doesn’t always have to mean time saving.
Listen to more music. Most people don’t need to be reminded to listen to music. But for some reason I forget what a powerful mood setter it can be for the entire family. And we are all going to no doubt need some mood setting this summer. Bring on the new Beyonce album I have been wanting to listen to but haven’t gotten around to yet. Get the family obsessed with Hamilton and Greatest Showman and other basic musical themes. Or maybe get another beach boys album. Whatever it may be, just don’t forget about music.
Be spontaneous with socializing. I accidentally found myself at my neighbor friend’s house earlier this week drinking a vodka tonic while the kids crashed their kids’ movie night. It was the best kind of mistake. And I vowed to make more spontaneous socializing happen this summer. Invite friends over when the house is messy. Send a text when you are headed to the beach. Don’t worry so much about getting friend time on the calendar and just take it when it comes. It always feels good to the spirit to get though the longer days together.
Use the car less. We have a garage full of strollers and bikes. We have a neighborhood with great access to most of what we need. And no one ever wished they sat in a car more. So as often as I can, I want to try to use our feet to get to where we need to go.
There is aways next year. The internet may be counting down how many summers you have left with your children. But I don’t need those numbers in my head. Instead, I am going to remember that what we do this summer is exactly enough for our family at this time. We don’t have to do everything. There is always another year, another time to make that memory. Sitting with these expectations is what the freedom of summer is meant to be.
I sat on the beach at the edge of the water, watching my children bounce around in the lake, unfazed by the frigid temperature of the early season water. My attention darted back and forth, keeping an eye on them so their confidence in the water doesn’t carry them too far out, while simultaneously managing the newest beach bum in the family from consuming too many fistfuls of sand. There is a lot going on here for me. Certainly not the relaxing beach days of my youth.
And yet still I am at peace. It is summer. My feet are happy in the sand and the water. My children are happy in the sand and water. We can do this. We can tackle this season together. I think I’ll bury those expectations deep into the sand under my toes. This beach is crowded enough as it is.
Bring it on, summer.