Summer goal: Parent like it’s 1989


When my family came home from the beach, I had 36 hours to execute a massive laundry turnover, pack my big girls for camp, get new tires on my car (or risk my dad not being able to sleep at night thinking about the baldness of my rear tires,) and pack myself for the 1,200 mile trip to and from North Carolina for camp drop-off.

We managed it and drop-off was a success. I got in bed at 7:15 the night I returned home and slept for 12 hours. And now it’s summer. My younger two don’t know that kids are supposed to sleep late in the summer; I imagine they’ll catch on the week before I have to start waking them up for school again.

Until then—I have some very long days to fill. My five-year-old has plenty of suggestions for me. Her list includes swimming, park, bouncy houses, and going back to the beach. I can accommodate three of the four of those but I’m not packing people up for travel again for a while if I can help it.

I have a few ideas for what I need to do this summer as well—all of them threaded with wild hope and grand intentions. The Office of Shame, Sink of Stuff, Playroom of Doom, and kids’ closets need to be purged, I’d like to get back in the routine of running—something that fell away in the chaos of the last few weeks, and I need to do a better job of reviewing school stuff than in the past. Every teacher I met with for end-of-the-year conferences brought up the need to avoid ‘summer learning slide’ and keeping hard-earned skills sharp with review and to read, read, read to my kids. I believe them; I know they’re right—and I try. We start out strong and as the heat of the summer intensifies, it sucks the will right out of my bones until August finds me holding up a box of cereal and asking, ‘What’s that say?’ And when they reply, ‘Multi-grain Cheerios,’ I decide that’s enough reading for the day. Then they’ll tell me they now hate Multi-grain Cheerios and their lives will not be complete without donuts.

The summer my son was born should be referred to as The Summer of Screens. I shoved iPads in their faces and I’m pretty sure that’s when the then two-year-old learned how to use the remote. I have zero regret over this—the newborn phase is sheer survival-mode and we survived. Maybe one day I’ll find a way to recoup the brain cells they lost that summer but if not—they gained a brother and that’s a win.

I don’t have the excuse of a newborn this summer, so I’m hoping we can keep the brain-cell-decimating-screen-time to a minimum. I’ve even toyed with the idea of having the cable cut off. Camp is handling screen detox for my oldest two, so I would have to deal with only two kids in electronics-withdrawals. I would love to have one less thing to worry about policing. That’s what happens with things like Netflix and iPads—they start out as helpful tools, (like when you have a new baby) then become something you have to monitor so your kids don’t lose the power of speech and interpersonal skills.

We let the girls sleep in the playroom a lot during the summer. If, after a day of arguing and minor violence, they want to snuggle up in sleeping bags to fall asleep to a movie together—we let them. They know that if they can’t agree on a movie, or if fighting requires parental refereeing then we’ll make them sleep in their beds. It might be the only time they get along all day; and we’ve decided this counts as ‘fostering problem-solving skills and compromise.’ Can’t nobody rationalize like a tired parent.

We set the sleep timer on the television for 30 minutes, but they know how to turn it back on and sometimes do. Sometimes we catch this, sometimes we don’t—making this another thing we have to police. The iPads have learning apps to help with summer review, but they can easily switch to some brainless game—better get back on patrol! When I decided to have children, I never imagined how much energy I would expend on saving their brains from things I had introduced into their lives.

My summer plans can be summed up by this: fixing the problems caused by taking the easy way out. The clutter in my house is a direct result of not dealing with all the stuff right away. Instead of planning ahead in a way that allowed for time to run, I just kept planning to start back the next day. My children need to be detoxed from the screens that they only have access to because their parents pay for them. What a fun summer!

There’s a meme that floats around telling parents they only have 940 Saturdays and 18 summers with their kids before they become adults and fly the coop—make the most of them! These irritate me to no end. Sure—we all need reminders that the years are short but I’m pretty sure those types of memes and articles result in more shame and guilt than actual carpe diem-ing. Messaging like that, pseudo-helpful but really just stress-inducing, abounds on the interwebs all year round.

April and May bring endless articles like ‘50 Magical Things to Do with Your Kids this Summer’ and ‘20 Ways to Make Every Second with your Kids Count.’ They start showing up right after we’ve made it through February and March’s onslaught of ‘10 Steps to a Beach-Ready Body’ and ‘Six Weeks to Shed the Winter Weight by Drinking 200 Ounces of Water a Day’ and ‘How this Quick and Easy 12-Step Skin Care Regimen Will Change your Life!’ (Spoiler: the water and the 12-steps of skin care will change your life because you will now live in your bathroom.) The ‘How to Declutter your House in a Day’ and ‘47 Habits to Become More Organized’ pop up throughout the year—shaming me and my clutter, resulting in foreboding, convincing me I’m already doomed for the next school year before this one is even finished.

If I was really good at a couple of those things then I’m sure my summer goals wouldn’t center around repairing the damage done by not doing those things—I am clear on that much. There are things I know I really have to do to make my family’s life work, and there are things I know I need to stay cognizant of to make sure our lives have depth and richness and don’t just consist of surviving.

I want my kids to look back on their 18 summers and 940 Saturdays and see a tapestry of fun and learning, time together, and more joy than stress. But I’m okay if it’s a worn and shabby looking tapestry, more like a broken-in picnic/movie-night quilt with crooked hand-lettering than a machine-manufactured, perfectly-produced piece of art you’d hang on a wall.

Staying semi-organized will probably get that job done. Letting them watch T.V. so I can run on the treadmill for 30 minutes is not the worst thing in the world. Finding the sweet spot between two hours of school review a day and reading the cereal box once a week will be harder to accomplish consistently, but I know is worth the effort. Spending all week planning Pinterest-worthy outings for every Saturday or thinking I have to be the camp director of their summer, making sure they have enriching activities every hour of every day? Not happening. Turkey sandwiches and pretzels for lunch most days? Good enough. Not a one of my children came out pooping glitter and rainbows—so I’m pretty sure they don’t require a constant stream of magical experiences to survive.

We may be the generation that has gone from ‘raising kids’ to treating parenting like some precious art form—but I’m adopting a new mantra: Parent like it’s 1989, minus all the TaB. (Yes, that’s the correct spelling—I Googled and now we’ve both learned something, take that Summer Learning Slide!)

This summer I’m going to tackle a handful of things I know for sure truly need to happen for my family to thrive. And all the rest of the tips and advice and should’s and how-to lists floating around out there trying to guilt me into being a better woman/mother/wife can kiss my sometimes carpe diem-ing, borderline dehydrated, un-beach body ready, poor skin-care routine following, 1989-channeling butt.


Elizabeth Quinn makes her home in Northeast Jackson with her husband Percy and four children.

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