As Summer Fades – Making Fun Memories Before School Starts
I used to laugh at the back-to-school commercials of the school supply guy dancing through the store singing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Like most parents, I looked forward to September. I was relieved from my summer job as activity director for my kids, and I could finally return to my routine. But one particular summer, I didn’t want my children to head back to school. We’d had a wonderful time together, and I didn’t want it to end.
One morning, during their last week of summer vacation, I planned to let them sleep in as long as possible. But in between sips of coffee, I had a brilliant idea. I’d been trying to decide on a good way to top off summer vacation, and with just a little planning, I knew my idea could work. In my excitement, I woke my two daughters at the crack of dawn and proclaimed, “We’re going to Mexico!”
Sleepy and confused, they both looked at me with terror. “Dad, what did you do?”
“Nothing,” I laughed. “That’s the problem. Let’s go have some fun before school starts.”
We only lived about 100 miles from Rosarito, Mexico. The trip was the perfect summer adventure. We enjoyed the long drive, fish tacos, horseback riding on the beach, swimming and a little shopping for souvenirs. We laughed, talked and played. The best part was when my daughters got their hair braided before we left. Taryn’s hair was braided with blue beads and Kayla’s hair was braided with pink ones.
Later the next week, when the excitement of the trip was eclipsed by the new school year, the braids in their hair finally came out. When we removed the beads, I put one blue bead and one pink bead on a chain I wore around my neck to remind me of the great summer of 2001. I still have the chain.
As I dropped off my kids for their first day of school after our trip, I said goodbye with a multitude of emotions. The week in Mexico had given me such a sweet glimpse of how my children had grown. They had changed. I had changed. I’m not sure the reason, but even our relationship changed and deepened more that summer than any other period of our lives. As fall began and ushered in a new season, I felt as if a season of my life had changed as well.
I took advantage of every opportunity to reinforce my love and concern for my daughters. I wanted to be strategic in maintaining and building our relationships.
So as I made the back-to-school transition, I determined to do several things:
Inquire about their school day. Even if they didn’t give any answers other than grunts, my girls needed to know I cared. They usually gave one-word answers to open-ended questions such as “What did you enjoy about your day today?” or “What was the most interesting thing you learned in class?” But I still asked them.
My interest in my daughters let them experience my love. And inquiring about their day not only showed my concern, but it also kept me informed about upcoming events, important experiences or relationships.
Invite other kids to come over to do homework. Most children learn better when they study with others and, as I discovered, other young people were able to help my kids more than I could. When they asked me questions about algebra, I smiled and said to one of my daughter’s friend’s, “Lindsay, you have that class, too, don’t you? What do you think?” (A narrow escape — Lindsay was great at math.) Inviting kids over also let me engage in and control my kids’ environment. As children get older, they want to spend more time with their friends than with their parents. So in order to be a part of my daughters’ world, I opened my home and made sure their friends came over whenever possible. I wanted to take every opportunity to relate with my girls and their friends.
Inspire my kids by learning myself. I continued to take different classes and enjoy learning. While the girls did their homework, I read a book or studied. If I spent time watching TV, the girls had a harder time concentrating on their homework. So by learning and reading myself, I had another opportunity to build quality relationships with my girls.
There is something wonderful about doing homework together in the quietness of a still room. Occasional soft talk and chuckles make for quality times. Besides that, accomplishing projects together, even though the tasks are independent, creates a teamwork atmosphere in the home.
Imagine us back in Mexico. I snuck photos of our summer vacation into the girls’ lunch bags so they could enjoy a momentary escape and relive some of the summer’s magic. Finding ways to remember strengthened our relationship through fond memories. One of my favorite ideas was to rub a light coat of coconut sunscreen on their arms just before they left for school. It had nothing to do with sun protection. Smell is the strongest sense we have, so when we captured a scent of summer, we enjoyed a momentary escape into our imagination. I wanted my kids to enjoy summer vacation memories throughout the school year.
A fresh start
For kids, back-to-school is their New Year’s Day. It’s a chance to start over and reinvent themselves. They have sturdy backpacks, shiny pencils, new outfits and clean notebooks. The first day of school ushers in a new beginning. But it’s a chance for your new beginning, too.
Make this school year a fun year. Make it a year of loving inquiry, compassionate invitation, collaborative inspiration and playful imagination. And with your children, enjoy this most wonderful time of the year.
Andrew Stenhouse enjoys his summer in Costa Mesa, Calif. He and his wife, Karen, work with blended families through their ministry, BetaFamily.