Summer Fun, Had Me a Blast

So I’m sure you’ve seen those adorable lists of summer activities slathered all over Pinterest, right? Because I am nothing if not a slavish follower to the overdecorated whims of the internet, here is our list:

I do well with a list, and I am afraid I won’t remember all the stuff I want to do this summer unless it’s in my face reminding me. Plus I really do need to paint the front porch.  But mostly I am not the spontaneous light saber battle type. I dearly wish I was, but I am not, so I like to think of this list as a little crutch to remind me that really really want to have a Tomato Party and that I can’t wait to take Eli fishing and that the Orange Freeze should be open soon.  Our preschool runs through the next three months (THANK YOU SWEET JESUS) so we have some structure there, but you know, fun.  I like to schedule it.

This weekend we knocked out two of these activities (“wash the car” and “Go to the County Fair”) and all this family togetherness has forced me to reconsider this list, I am afraid, because as much as I dream the impossible dream of an idealized Country Lemonade Commercial version of summer, as much as I want so much for my kids to remember running through the sprinklers and campfire smores, I mean, we went to the County Fair and it sucked, basically. Yeah. It pretty much sucked.

I don’t even know. I don’t know. I mean, I am not sure if it’s our parenting styles or our particular children or if we are trying too much too soon, but it’s exhausting and it’s not an insignificant amount of money to do things like this, and when it’s not fun, I feel defeated. And I don’t expect to party like it’s 1999 in the petting zoo or whatever, but really the entire time we were there at least one child was in the throes of a complete emotional breakdown. Eli did nothing but obsess over going on rides he wasn’t tall enough to go on, and Katie couldn’t go on any rides, so then we’d have to drag one screaming child away from the animals to go back to the rides or drag another screaming child away from the rides to go see the animals, and I find myself wondering if maybe we just shouldn’t leave the house.

Seriously, I am not exaggerating when I say that any activity involving taking both children out of the house is terrible, and yet I want nothing more than to do these things with the four of us and actually when it was the three of us we managed pretty well, but now we are four and we cannot go out to eat, we cannot go to the library, we cannot go to Target or Home Depot without screaming or someone falling out of a cart or someone falling into someone else’s nachos and I just feel defeated.

If I squint hard enough into the future I can see a well behaved eight year old and a well behaved five year old really having fun watching the fireworks after a baseball game or riding the roller coasters at the County Fair, but I guess what I’m wondering is if this time now, this wretched unpleasant soul sucking time, is necessary for those moments, or if we should just give up?  Should I just buy the one fishing license and let fishing be something that Eli and Erik do alone together, even though I really want to fish too, dammit? Am I doing something important, now, actually?

Or am I just bashing my head against a wall that says “Summer Fun” on it for absolutely no reason? Beacuse I have to tell you. The head bashing? It’s not really as much fun as you might think.



14 Responses

  1. I wondered this exact same thing I myself a few years back, and now that I’m the mom of (usually) (reasonably) well-behaved elementary schoolers and we can actually DO things as a family, I feel called to comment.

    1. It gets better. It does. It so, so does.
    2. Do stuff anyway, but give yourself some slack. Also maybe avoid expensive outings that will mock you with their futility.
    3. Take lots of pictures, because the flaming irritation will fade, and the farther you get from the event, the more awesome it will seem, and a bunch of photos to commemorate the awesomeness will help (even photos of tantrums in public places make me feel nostalgic now).
    4. It really does get better.

  2. LOW expectations. Pretty much everywhere we go, I assume we’re going to have some massive double tantrum, a diaper blow-out and a pee-in-the-pants incident (even though my oldest son has never done that). Then, when those things don’t happen — or rather, there’s only a nasty poo that has to be changed in the trunk and one brief squall of tantrum — I am pleasantly surprised by how much FUN we had.
    Also, much like the old piece of advice to pretend everyone is naked to get over stage fright, I figure pretty much everyone else is feeling defeated over their children or feeling grateful they no longer are carting around children to defeat them. This makes me feel less bad about my squally, sullen children.

  3. Hi there – not quite sure how I find your blog anymore – and I barely use Pinterest – but I’ve got kids about the same age and can I just say: Please, please tell me that you get to take that list CROSS OFF the things you’ve done! At least for me, I’d feel MUCH MUCH better once I put a big ole line right through that “go to the county fair.”
    After crossing that sucker off, I probably wouldn’t even remember how traumatized I felt by the whole experience. 😉

  4. This is kind of how I feel about vacations these days. And I have only one child. Someday, right?

  5. I SO know where you are coming from! We do totally LOW KEY stuff with our kids (mine are the same ages I think as yours – 5 and 2) and I feel like I get scrooge eyed around Christmas every year because we don’t go all crazy going to the super crowded/ridiculously expensive ‘experiences.’ but we have our little favorite things that are our traditions now. I do not think it’s worthwhile to throw money toward ‘vacations’ (is it really a vacation with two small ones??) and experiences like the Fair or a musical or a theme park, etc. I have a number of friends that spend thousands every summer on a one bedroom lake condo that they share with their little kids for TWO WEEKS straight. Yes, I’m sure there are plenty of fun summer experiences at ‘the lake’ but, at this age, what’s the ratio of fun to not so fun? Methinks ‘not so fun’ wins out right now. I think it’s well worth waiting until the kids are more mature and we can ALL enjoy the time together. They’ll remember running thru the sprinkler or getting slurpees just as fondly as a trip to the fair, maybe more so. My 2 cents 🙂

  6. Oh, I agree with Melospiza. It really does get better. My kids are now 5 and 3, and I would say our enjoyment level of family outings has risen drastically in the last 6 months. I had SO MANY days where I felt exactly as you describe. Completely defeated, wondering what in the hell we were doing wrong, and feeling like a total chump for having blown money on the experience. Oh, and add into that feeling silent told-you-sos from my husband who I tend to have to drag out to any planned activities (quite possibly because he KNEW they were going to suck, but alas I am stubborn).

    Anyway, we got to the point where we’d try to collectively find at least one part of the outing that wasn’t awful: “Well, the beer we were drinking softened the horror of watching the 2-year-old pick up a used straw off the grandstand floor and put it in her mouth!”

    I do think there is value in determining which activities are more age-appropriate for your older child and either splitting up or getting a babysitter for your daughter. I feel like a lot of potentially really fun things got ruined for my son (my older) by the turbulence of his sister.

    Hang in there, take pictures, edit those pictures heavily and have faith that one day you too will be an old lady sighing nostalgically over harried mothers in Target and telling them to “enjoy every minute.”

  7. I really disagree with the idea of waiting until the kids are bigger, not for them (since honestly little kids would generally speaking prefer to stay at home and play in the mud on their own time), but for you. That’s a huge sacrifice, to give up doing all the things you enjoy for years at a time, and at least for me, would only transform me into a resentful martyr mother. Also, most worthwhile activities require training to participate in (like the ability to tolerate mild discomfort, boredom and waiting in line). If you don’t start early, then by the time they are school aged they will be like my cousin, unable to tolerate places without air conditioning or quick access to electronic media.

    I only have one child so things are much easier for me. But we go on an outing every week, and have taken 5 international trips so far this year (we live in Singapore so this isn’t nearly as hard). Sometimes it sucks (like when she woke up every hour all night long our first night in Malacca, or pretty much all flights), but this is true whenever you try anything new: it’s hot, your bag gets stolen, you get lost, the fair was crowded and seedy.

    What keeps me happy is that I only do these experiences for ME. If she likes it, great, but if not, at least I got to do something I wanted to do. So when she refuses to go swimming on the beautiful tropical beach because she hates the feel of sand that day, I am annoyed but not disappointed. Maybe you should rethink your list a little, to include only things YOU’VE always wanted to do (for me, this means my toddler goes to a LOT of museums and historic buildings).

    I think it’s too much pressure to expect people (even children) to react to “fun” things in a certain way. Please yourself, and maybe they will be pleased too (my toddler surprises me sometimes). Besides, children have innately bad taste: it’s your duty to civilize them!

  8. My older kids are almost 5 and almost 8 and I have to say the outings you describe are getting SO much better (and my almost 8yo has DS so we have that added challenge but even then it’s SO MUCH BETTER) than last summer. Dare I say we even have fun with them? But then we had to screw it up by having twins so we’re pretty much at square one. 🙂 I hear you though, I so hear you. I have to say, I really like Grace’s advice. Also: You must lower your standards. That will really help. Also beer.

  9. I think I’m in the “sit things out and/or keep expectations low” camp. For example, we’ve apparently bought three sets of 4 tickets to the AA baseball team who play a mile from here, but the games are at 5pm or 7pm, and I told Andrew I’m reserving the right to stay home with the baby. But the tickets are only $6, so we’re only out $6. No big deal. We also have two vacations planned, but on vacation I totally expect to just sleep with the baby all night, so as long as I don’t waste my time futilely trying to put the baby to bed on her own, I feel like that’s fine. And we’re going to go to an amusement park for little kids, but I will just remind myself that if they WANT to stay in the splash park portion all day, that’s FINE, even if we can go to a splash park near our house for free. It’s for them to have fun, so I have to let them have fun how they want. And I’d love to take them to the beach, but I know I cannot possibly take all three by myself, and the beach with a baby is kind of awful, so we just may not make it this year. I try to remain philosophical.

    Dealing with tantrums is hard, and Nora will be three this summer, so… I don’t know. Maybe I’ll regret all of this planned activity. But it is so hard to miss EVERYTHING because I have to stay home with the baby. I don’t want Andrew to get to do ALL the fun stuff.

    I trust it will get better.

  10. Low expectations. Yes. Redefine fun. Yes. We do a fair amount of stuff with the kids but we are always ready to cut and run if it’s not working, and we never plan to do every single thing offered at the fair/park/whatever. And we divide and conquer a lot. Each of us takes one kid. At that fair, one of us would have gone on rides and one would have looked at animals. At least for a chunk of it. I like the idea of a foursome but I’d rather have two twosomes than a foursome in which one-fourth is wailing. You know? You can work it out so you’re all together for a while, then split up, meet up again, trade kids…it’s not like you have to meet in the parking lot when it’s all done. (Bonus is you get to say stuff like, “Really? You saw a cow? Where was that? I’d like to see it!” and then your kid can be all important fair expert tour guide.) Some family time, some 1:1 time.

    How much is it to get two fishing licenses? Or, rather, how expensive is the penalty if you get caught fishing without a license? My state also has some free fishing days, I think, when you don’t need a license at all.

    • A renegade! There is no way I would be allowed to fish without a license (FIL is a retired game warden) but I think we will get Erik a license and let him try it out first and see how it goes. We don’t have to get both at once. I think maybe my problem is that I think 2 year olds are boring? I don’t really want to go look at the animals by myself with a two year old. I am a bad selfish person! Oh well.

  11. I have an 11 year old and a 5 year old and I am trying to think of ideas that we would all enjoy. (My 11 year old would rather sit in the house and play video games all summer but we can’t have that, can we? )
    I agree with the idea to keep it low key. Your ideas all seem achievable. Some of these summer bucket lists online with all the families looking so thrilled in all the photos make me feel a little inadequate. I was actually happy to read your realistic portrayal of the fair. We don’t do fairs or carnivals anymore– they are too expensive and never live up to the expectation.

  12. The money is the biggest part for me – I feel lke I can pay for a “fun” outing in one of two ways: money or suckitude. If it costs both, it’s not worth it. We get free tickets to the fair here (my dad is on the board), so we actually enjoy going, because even if it sucks at least we didn’t pay for it. Also, we can leave if needed and not feel like our money was wasted. So, basically, we search out any free/low cost activity and stick to those. When the kids are older, maybe we’ll go to more expensive things.

  13. I am going to do the fun summer things no matter how battered or bloodied I become or how many crustaceans I have to adopt.

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