Summer vacation means something totally different when you’re a parent. For starters, it’s not a vacation.
Sure, kids need a respite from school and structure and cafeteria food. But summer break is anything but a break for parents. Despite my petitions, protestations and burying my head in the sand in a yoga worthy contortion of denial, every year it comes around anyway. My social media sites are ablaze with ideas, suggestions, complaints and one week in, pleas for help.
I get it, trust me. Whether your summer break is six weeks, eight, ten or twelve (thank you, school gods for seeing fit not to give my kids a 12 week summer break), those days upon endless days of unstructured time add up.
So listen up: Summer vacation is a marathon, not a sprint.
Like with any test of endurance levels, you would be stupid to go into it cold. You’ve got to get yourself in peak physical and mental condition. Summer vacation is something you’ve got to train for.
Pace yourself. Don’t put all your rainy day ideas in one Pinterest basket. Don’t use up all your museum passes in one week. Don’t wear yourself out in the first ten days of a ten week stretch. Your heart, despite what Celine Dion says, won’t go on.
Listen to your body. If you attempt to scooter or Rollerblade or skateboard with your kids, don’t be surprised if you pull a muscle you haven’t used since you gave birth or tried to windmill in that break dancing class in 1987. Taking the kids to the park is enough. You don’t need to grind the railings with them too.
Stay hydrated. Before noon, water and coffee and/or tea are all good options. Wine and/or beer are advisable for their lubricating effects during those summer “don’t you have a bedtime???” evenings.
Stick to a training schedule. Kids need unstructured time spent lolling about looking at the clouds. For my kids, that unstructured lolling lasts for five minutes before the bickering starts. Most kids need a schedule. They need a plan. It doesn’t have to be as tight or rigid as the one that gets you out of the door on school mornings, but a loose framework helps manage expectations for everyone.
Take a few trial runs. Build up to the 20 hour car ride by doing a few shorter trips. Those smaller trips add to your endurance levels so that when you’re huffing and puffing looking for the charger on for your phone to keep the GPS running before you get lost in the mountains, you’ll be prepared.
Get a training partner/s. If it were up to my kids, they’d be more than happy to spend the 56 days of summer vacation training barbarian hordes and watching YouTube videos by some man named Captain Sparklez. And frankly, it would be easy to let them, especially when the weather’s crappy (thanks for nothing, Danish summer). Make plans with someone else and you’re more likely to get out of the house and keep your sanity.
Watch out for carb-loading. You don’t need to front load ice-cream or chips just because it’s summer. Your kids can eat tubs of ice cream a day. They can eat the contents of Willie Wonka’s factory and burn it off in an afternoon. Can you?
Aim for the finish line, not a new world record. The only one who is going to care if you do eight weeks of tech-free time filled with museums and other educational outings is you. The key to summer is crossing the finish line. It doesn’t matter what time you do it in.
Prep your mental game. Kids will beat you down if you let them. They will exploit your weakness, unmask your doubts, they will wear you down to the point of fatigue. That’s usually when you look at the calendar and realize you’re only 3 weeks in and still have 5 to go. Steal your mind. You can do this.
Schedule recovery time. Entire day at the beach? Recover with an afternoon of Netflix. Eight hours at an amusement park chasing kids and convincing them the games are rigged and the fries are soggy? Recover with pizza or McDonald’s for dinner. A pizzeria that serves wine is even better.
Plan a celebration. Sibling squabbles, bored whining, sunburns, scraped knees, ice cream bellyaches. Eventually school will be back in session. When the going gets tough, go to your school’s back on happy place.
There you have it. Follow my summer training schedule and before you know it, you’ll be moaning about having to stock the classroom full of tissues and washable markers, the cost of new sneakers and wondering where the time goes.