My Summer Vacation Vow — “This Year Is Going to Be Different!”

Posted June 18, 2009 by

Photo of annita-woz

So I’m writing out the checks like they are going out of style. Summer piano lessons, summer swim lessons, summer tennis lessons, summer art class, summer drama club, summer soccer camp.  I’m justifying all this layout of cash by promising myself that I appreciate the opportunities that this  area offers and that this is a great time to introduce the kids to things they can try and maybe learn to love for a lifetime.


Who am I kidding? This is summer vacation, isn’t it? Who really gets the vacation if I’m still on a schedule and if I’m spending these glorious hot summer days, sweltering in some parking lot waiting to shuttle my kids to the next fun scheduled activity?

And whose vacation is this anyway? My kids are checking the calendar, hovering between excitement and dread, anticipating that some friends they know will be there and dreading that the time spent on the tennis court will mostly teach them to hate standing on hot asphalt at noon on a humid summer day in Northern Wisconsin.

Who am I kidding?!

For the last three years I have been really good about limiting this kind of scheduling. My kids hate mornings. They love to stay up late,  run to the neighbor’s house for tag, come home and make s’mores on the perpetual bonfire and then leave the yard with flashlights to play some more. They don’t want to wake up at the crack of dawn and  head to soccer camp. And I don’t want to shuttle them there, half dressed, my hair a mess, clearly looking like I’m in need of coffee and thank goodness, able to slip into a pair of sandals so that I don’t have to wrestle through the drawers looking for matching socks for the drive to the neighborhood park for canoeing class.

I thought this was summer vacation!

This year, as usual, I have to force myself to stop and listen to the kids and stop scheduling some sanity time for myself by booking them into activities.

Yes, I admit, I THINK that I am getting time to myself by signing them up for things, but what I’m really getting is cranky kids and a lot of laundry and a need to buy convenience food and other bribery things to feed them while they ride to the next activity and refuel their little selves. And I get to keep track of the dirty towels, the cleats, the water bottle and the carpool schedule.

So recently I sat down and really thought about where we live, our lifestyle and what the kids like. I realized that although living in a rural area instead of a subdivision has always had it’s drawbacks, this year we somehow struck gold.

You see, behind us (well, along the path, over the fence, through the yard, around the neighbors’ newly planted pines, and across the back road) lives a neighbor with a girl the same age as my daughter and a trampoline.  Saved!

And down the path, across the newly cut barbed wire fence, under the scrub tree, around the fire pit, and up the hill is another neighbor who has two boys — one the same age as mine and one a bit older — and some legos, some makeshift swords and a mom who makes fresh cookies every morning.

Across the yard, over the fallen fence, down the path, around the vegetable garden and up past the above-ground pool is where the kids all have found each other. They are playing on swing sets, making up games, picking up sticks for weapons to use against imaginary enemies and taking time to run, jump, and explore the bit of nature that has gone unclaimed by mowers and lawn tractors.

I’ve got kids calling day and night to get together with mine. All they want is some cookies and crackers to take out to the fort they just built, and OK, sometimes they want a band aid or to refill the water gun, but mostly, they just want freedom to run and to be told to come home when it is dark.

So I rip up the checks, throw the registration forms in the garbage, invite the cousins to come and stay for a week and yes, I admit, I keep the swim lessons and the drama camp on the schedule. But I’m thinking, this is going to be the best of summers, a real vacation. No more running, no more getting up early to drive somewhere to arrive at some time specific activity. And just maybe this will be a real summer vacation.

For this summer, my kids are going to play, for free, in the backyard.

(They won’t be bored, right? Is this going to work? Should I start digging in the garbage can right now for those forms…?) What are your kids doing for summer vacation?


Annita Wozniak grew up in a large, imperfect family in the Midwest. "As adults we have the power to build children up or tear them down," she says about the challenges of being a responsible parent, "and we never know when what we say is going to be a defining moment in a child's life." Woz is a writer and child-grower living in the Midwest with her husband and their three inspirational children. She is always learning. You can visit her website at

Popular on Empowering Parents

View Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Sharon from Mama's Turn Now Report

    Loved this. This was how I remember summer being growing up. Unfortunately this type of unstructured schedule doesn’t work with us as my son has Aspergers. He loves the idea of lazy summer days but just isn’t wired for them. He needs a schedule. I have limited the amount of extra curricular activities but non the less I am running around more now then during school that is for sure! SIGH. But they are only young once and now is the time to enjoy them even if it drives me crazy! LOL

  2. Annita Woz Report

    Mom of three boys, I posted your question for free backyard type activities and got the following ideas:

    1) hang a tire swing
    2) ask them to design a pulley system to pull up toys from the ground to the deck or to the top of the swingset, etc.
    3) sidewalk chalk dipped in the splash pool water makes paint (of sorts!) make paint, then use paint brushes to paint the swingset/fort/deck/sidewalk
    4) do a scavenger hunt- make the list of things you know are outside(seed pods, dead bugs, feathers, twigs, black rocks, 3 inch long dandelion stems, are all fair game…) and send them on the hunt. Reward with popsicles.
    5) Capture the flag (just google that and you will get directions)
    6) Shaving cream- put it on the slide for a bathing suit crazy time, also can use it for painting
    7) take out the rescue hereos and barbies that no one is using and let them put them in the splash pool. Hotwheel cars, action figures, and legos also work well.
    8) plant some flowers together or sunflower seeds, pumpkins seeds, etc… Dirt is good.
    9) Posicle sticks, glue, dirt, grass combined make for some interesting construction projects in a small part of the sandbox or the yard. Let go of some grass-let them dig it up.
    10) kickball- bouncy ball and a yard of kids with some hilarious parents running the bases can be a great workout and fun for the kids.
    11) Lemonade stand
    12) Rock painting- outside. Gather small rocks and decorate OR if you have a rock retaining wall, let them go to town with paint or watercolors. It all washes away– eventually. We also use these same paints to paint the wooden swingset, the wooden climbing area, the floor of the deck, and yes, the front door. Again, it does wash off eventually.
    13) Let them wash their bikes (the don’t want to wash the car, but they’ll do their own “vehicles”. Shaving cream a good addition here…
    14) Forts- if you have a clothesline, send out the blankets and sheets and let them create. Allow them to take out stuff from the inside of the house!

    Learn to look the other way at the dirt, mud, mess, and stuff. At the end of the day, make sure to organize a clean up offering to let them do it all again the next day when they help….

    Other ideas??

  3. Mom of 3 Boys Report

    Oh yeah. With 3 boys, I’m basically a shuttle service! Anybody have any ideas for some low-cost backyard things we could do? (I like the sprinkler/slip and slide idea. I’m going to get those at Target today.) Anything else? My kids are 5, 9 and 13. Thanks!

  4. Annita Woz Report

    Before going in…any words of wisdom…well, even though they aren’t signed up for a load of activities, i’m finding in this first week that they are loving the later morning schedule. It is difficult to balance with working but my husband was able to shift his morning start time to a bit later so he could have breakfast with the kids and he even has time for lego building before work.

    The second thing we did was lay in the reminder that mush brain happens when the tv is on too much. The house rule is that there is no tv in the morning, an hour of resting TV after lunch (the sun is so hot anyway) and then it goes off until just before bed. I have had to tell them more than once if they are bored that I can put them to work! (I think my mom used that on me!)

    The truth is, I have to adjust my free time and work time to make it work. If the kids aren’t being babysat by a formal program, that means that I am the formal program, no matter how informal I am! I have to turn off my computer in the mornings and invest some time engaging with my kids. I’ve had a great time reconnecting with each one and I’ve found I have some real learning opps from sharing lessons on doing the chores that makes the house run smoothly. They are willing to make their beds before they can ask a neighbor to play, they are willing to do a clean up in the living room before we put out the slip and slide, they are willing to sit quietly and read a bit (or color for my yonng one) if it means we will take a trip to the library twice a week.

    The worst realization however is that the world does not stop just because I want to have a relaxing summer. I’m still handling phone calls, cooking/cleaning, keeping up with work emails and writing deadlines while supervising kids. I’m working very hard at not getting grumpy when I’m interrupted by neighbors visiting, kids asking for help finding “stuff” for projects and trying not to get irritated that the house is a disaster. My brother says to look around at the end of the day and if the house is a big mess, that means the kids had a GREAT day.

    Anyone else out there trying to avoid an overscheduled summer? Hows it going for you?

  5. Louise Sanborn Report

    Annita, thanks for this post — I needed to hear your words of wisdom. This is our first real “Summer Vacation” because my son just finished kindergarten, so I’m hoping it goes well…wish us luck! Anything we should know before we go in? 🙂

  6. Joyce Barnett Report

    I agree with this comment by Annita and you know what they say the best things in life are free. Just kids being kids and having fun without having to go to some practice or class. The parent ends up being run through the ringer and is the child really having that much fun. I mean they have a million chanels on the tv now I never had that when I was a kid I was happy with the little shows we had and I loved it. People go a little crazy with all these activities that they end up getting really stressed out over it and if the parent is stressed the child will be to. So I say enjoy your summers and just relax and let life happen.



Join our NEW Total Transformation® Learning Center!

Practical, affordable parenting help starting at $14.95/month BECOME A MEMBER TODAY!

Empowering Parents is the leading online resource for child behavior help


Parent Coaching Sessions

7.5 Million

Global Visitors

10+ Years

Helping Families