(This article was published in Julien’s Journal in June, 1997. I hope it makes you chuckle, even if it may seem a little dated. )
It is late spring. Children are rummaging through their dresser drawers for shorts and t-shirts. The days are getting longer, and the kids are packing as much play as they can into those extra daylight minutes. The garden and the lawn demand your attention as the warm air and sunshine spur new growth. School is coming to a close. Summer vacation is right around the corner.
Wait… no school. Kids will be at home all day. Oh no! It’s coming! Something you almost forgot. But how could you? You know it comes around every year at the same time. It arrives about the second day of summer vacation, with no warning. Not even a hint that it’s coming. Every year you forget to prepare, and every year you chastise yourself for the oversight. And then your self-defense mechanisms engage. Maybe it won’t happen this year. No need to sweat it. Don’t worry about things before they happen, right?
And just when your defenses are down, it comes. It slaps you in the face like a cold washcloth. Fifty-two hours and 36 minutes into summer vacation, one of your children will come to you, shoulders drooping, chin jutting out, and say it. You won’t even have a chance to brace yourself against the kitchen sink. Those dreaded words will flow out of that little mouth like molasses. “I’m bored!”
Now before you dial Camp Keepembusy to see if they will take the kids for the whole summer, calm down and reflect on the problem. Realize just how amazing your children are. For 365 and ¼ days you needed to remind these little dears to pick up their clothes, put away their toys and brush their teeth. But did they need reminding for this once a year proclamation? No! Amazing! They were able to utter those simple words just as they had said it yesterday. More importantly, you can be relieved that all those videos didn’t atrophy their brains. Their memory emerged intact.
Unfortunately, you may not have the luxury to reflect too long. The follow-up question rolls off the lips too fast. “Now what can I do?” This is the killer, the twisting of the knife. “Haven’t I done enough?” you ask. “Isn’t baseball camp, basketball camp, swimming camp, music camp and summer camp enough? What more could you possibly want?”
“But Mom! Those don’t start until tomorrow!”
Before you begin feeling guilty for not planning every nanosecond of your childrens’ vacation, remember that this is normal. When in school, your kids have their entire day planned right down to when they use the bathroom. So, for them to make this transition to being able to plan their day by themselves, they will need a little help.
My first suggestion, use standard answers as your springboard. You don’t want to get the kids too excited too fast. Why don’t you use one or all of the following—read a book, clean your room, take out the trash, pick up the playroom, mow the lawn, weed the garden? Any red-blooded child will, of course, revoke all these suggestions. The point you will be trying to make is that these will be their alternatives if they don’t think of something to do and fast.
If the kids don’t catch on to your motive and you want to give them some other choices, try the following. In your most convincing and I’ve-got-a-great-idea-voice, announce that you have a great idea. Have them gather in the front yard and explain that because they seem to have a lot of time on their hands, now would be a good time to learn a new game. Suggest they sit in a circle, legs crossed, fingers making little O’s, with their hands resting on their knees. With their eyes closed, they are to start chanting their mantra. Undoubtedly, they will ask what this is. Explain that when you were a child and you wanted the ice-cream truck to come to your house, you would sit on the grass just like this and quietly repeat the word “ice-cream” which was your mantra. At this point, it is crucial that you emphasize that it worked every time.
It won’t take long before one of their friends rides by on his bike and starts laughing hysterically at the chanting family and friends. Your children will be “totally embarrassed” and run into the house, screaming that they will never speak to you again. Rest assured that they will speak to you again, but with any luck, they will think twice before asking, “Now what can I do?”