What If I Stopped Trying To Make Summer Magic?

I remember childhood summer breaks as a carefree time of pure, simple pleasures: climbing the magnolia tree in the front yard until I was eye-level with the electrical wires, playing games of capture the flag that felt far more consequential than they were, and making elaborate shoebox homes for roly-polies. The schedules and responsibilities faded away, and my biggest challenges were mosquito bites and sunburns. My days were packed with autonomous play and a slower cadence that corresponded perfectly with the repressive summer heat. I don’t remember grown-ups being there much at all, though I know they were.

I don’t remember ever considering, or perhaps caring, what summer felt like for my parents. I was living in the sheer self-centered bliss of childhood.

Now, as a stay-at-home parent on the precipice of the end of the school year, it’s both humbling and liberating to think that most of my kids’ summertime memories won’t involve me. Because wow, summer is a lot.

Our average summer day unfolds something like this: my daughter concocts something in our kitchen that likely has raw eggs, and she waits for me to eat it with wide-eyed anticipation. While this is happening, my son sneaks into the pantry and bags up all of the food on the lowest shelf as if he’s just gone on a chaotic shopping spree. As I’m cleaning up these messes, they both go into my closet and put on my neglected dresses, and then parade around our house with our dog trailing behind, obediently sporting a unicorn horn.

When the cabin fever sets in and we decide to venture into the world, no matter how prepared I am, I’m likely wearing two different colored sandals with a sticker that I have no idea is on my ass and weirdly crimped bangs thanks to the sweat on my forehead.

Inevitably, someone will scrape their knee, they’ll need to pee and there will be no bathroom, and conjuring the patience to let them struggle to click themselves into their own carseats will feel, once again, like torture. I’ll look at the clock and realize that it’s only 2:30 pm, and I’ll try not to panic about how much of the day is left.

As a mom, I often feel that it’s taboo to relax during my children’s waking hours. That makes the long summer days sometimes feel utterly stifling. The demands are never-ending, the rest is limited, and the guilt of whether I’m doing enough or being enough can be depleting.

I know this time when my kids are young is so fleeting and them getting older feels utterly heartbreaking in some ways. But, while they are making their own memories, perhaps I can recapture moments that feel like the summers of my youth: when time slowed down, expectations simplified, and my days were dictated by what brought me joy.

Summer vacation can feel like parenting in a pressure cooker, but, staying devoted to this metaphor, the knowledge that kids’ summer memories don’t seem to often involve their parents is some sort of a release valve. Beyond giving my son and daughter a safe and loving home, is it really my job to help create the type of summer that I remember so fondly? Maybe that’s their experience to create, and I shouldn’t take it away from them.

As devastating as it is to not be the selector of my children’s memories, if the freedom of this time of year is imprinting on their brains more than my parenting, I could occasionally give them the space to make memories while I put my feet up and drink an iced tea. My son and daughter have each other. They have a backyard full of what they fervently believe are fairy dwellings. They have imaginations which still allow an Amazon box to be a rocket ship-castle-transformer. I will continue to be their chauffeur, chef and chaperone. I will continue to quietly carry the mental load of schedules and support. They will know the feeling of my presence without remembering the billions of smoothies I made, sunscreen I lathered, scooters I chased after, or fights I deflected. But, they can be cat-mermaids or princesses on a camping trip without me. Perhaps summer, from time to time, could be for parents too.

Sarah Benedict is a freelance writer who lives in Atlanta with her husband, 3 year old son and 5 year old daughter. While her essays range in topic, more recently she’s enjoyed sharing a very honest, perhaps relatable, or at the very least amusing lens into the charmingly chaotic reality of life while parenting little humans. To read more of her writing, subscribe to her newsletter Charmingly Chaotic or follow her on Instagram @​​charmingly.chaotic.

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