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The unstructured summer day

June 6, 2011

After the Friday that Col was sprung from kindergarten with stacks of artwork and a baby food jar of mealworms and darkling beetles, I spent the whole weekend announcing ceremoniously to Dan, Today Is The First Day of Summer.

evening grosbeaks

Sometimes I’d whisper the words with the giddy awe of someone who was still outside at 8:30 pm, tucking tomato plants into horse manure alongside children who no longer had any particular bedtime. Other times – like when Rosie was ear-splittingly bereft about Col still having some dried mango left when she had eaten all of hers – the words would squeak through the thin breezeways of my gritted teeth.

building a rubber band launcher with found objects in garden (as for why his forehead is orange, your guess is as good as mine).

In an instant our entire routine has changed. In fact, there is no routine anymore – it’s like the house of cards that we’ve been delicately propping up for 9 months has blown over. We’re no longer the harried commuters trying to make the early bedtime train. And at 2:45 pm, I’m no longer waking Rose from her nap while gathering up protein to fling at Col’s weary post-school self.


It took about 3 days, a lot of coffee and some deep yogic breathing to build back a tolerance for the all day Mama-gig. And it’s such an odd gig, really. Because an hour will pass with the kids cheerfully drawing at the kitchen table discussing whether pink is actually a color in the rainbow. And everything is peaceful and creative in that way that you always imagined family life to be back when your pregnant belly was thumping with life and you felt like a mother because you were reading parenting books while the spoon was a blur of metal between your mouth and the ice cream carton.

But I know enough now to see that Col and Rose are perched on top of  a giant Jenga game and any minute someone is going to carelessly yank out a wooden block and crash the whole thing down. Which is just to say, things change in an instant.

And then the next hour everyone is shattered and broken on the ground and I’m back to my yogic breathing and reminding myself that there is no Eden of certain bliss to return to, there is no criminal child who needs punishment, there is just the next moment to breathe through without drowning in the surf of my own expectations. Soon I am pulling myself up by a string, knotted with moments of grace, dangling above the ocean while the kids have skittered off to play a new game.

But, today is the first day of summer, and there’s nowhere we have to be! Sometimes the day yawns scarily ahead of us like this chasm of sticky boredom that you could fall into and become too bored and hot to ever climb out of. But really, it’s never like that. There’s aphids to serve to chickens, and weird, glamourous ponies who need their purple hair washed and brushed, and the magic that springs forth from the imaginations of children who are teetering on the edge of that crevasse labeled “sticky boredom down here.” And just before a small sneaker is about to slip down into the crevasse, the child pivots around, runs away and says, “let’s say I was a butterfly and you were trying to feed me nectar.”

“No, let’s say I was a doctor and I had to cut off your foot.”

“Yeah, because I didn’t need it anymore.”


And they’re off.

It’s 9:15 am and already the kids made cards for their grandparents, ate several breakfasts, discussed what would happen if you tied a balloon to an evening grosbeak, snuggled in bed requesting funny stories about when they were “little,” found a “callepitter” (caterpillar) and made a habitat for it in a jar, had some fight that no one remembers, gathered chicken eggs, and rode bikes around the yard.

I’m loving the rhythm of our unstructured summer days; I think it’s my new religion.

*** ** *** ** *** ** ***

And you, dear one?  How is your summer with the little peeps going?

20 Comments leave one →
  1. June 8, 2011 11:52 am

    I love this. And me, well I’m out of synch, and on repeat, like a record with a scratch, going around and around in circles, getting nothing accomplished. Here, the weather is bleak, grey and decidedly cool – making the notion that summer exists anywhere, a distant dream. I am still longing for a good, strong day by the river, and heck, I’d even go for one full day of Do-nothing – where there’s no agenda and all the chores are wrapped up by dinner. But I know summer will come, as it always does, sometime in mid-July, and I’ll be tired of it by mid-november, and in the meantime, I’m in a holding pattern, begging the rain and clouds to move on to drier climates!

  2. Kathy permalink
    June 8, 2011 12:38 pm

    But, today is the first day of summer, and there’s nowhere I have to be…

    My 26 year old with Down syndrome graduated from her school program. She left for Texas with her father and sister. My husband is at work.

    I am adrift for the day, reliving yesterday with photos from the camera. She will not be home on the bus today. It is ended. Seven and a half years of hard work and fun, driving to school each day, track and hockey practices over until she joins the ARC team…

    And the huge to-do list has to be put aside just to recall her smile as she walked across the stage; and I’m wondering what she is doing in Texas.

    The five week future is a huge empty space to spread my wings without my adult fledgling and fly my own journey. I wish my daughters were young again and we could play together…

  3. June 8, 2011 12:40 pm

    Beautiful post. Our days are incredibly unstructured, but they also look the same, day to day, it seems. We spend lots of time jumping on the new trampoline or playing on the computer. There are games and stories and creative adventures in the kitchen. It’s been SO hot here (104F today) that getting outside too much has been a challenge. This mama is a big gardener so I venture out to tend to things (and to breathe and to find my groundedness) while Isaac stays indoors. He comes to find me every now and then, for a snuggle and to make sure I haven’t disappeared, but he’s a happy clam in the coolness of the house. My favourite part has been later bedtimes. Even though we aren’t in school, I still find that bedtime has naturally moved later into the evening. It’s nice to have the extra day light to hang out together. So glad summer is finally here.

  4. Diane Petersen permalink
    June 8, 2011 2:40 pm

    Just beautiful, you are! We’ve had snow still piling high in our mountains and even a few inches on our deck two days ago. Summer has seemed so far away until yesterday. Finally, overcast skies gave way to glorious swatches of blue like I’ve never seen!! Everything changed in that moment. The fever was finally gone and the broken arm seemed like no big deal! Kofi and I tracked some ants and jumped on the trampoline and everything was just perfect! Big, beautiful, satisfying exhale…..

  5. June 8, 2011 3:00 pm

    Although I am at work part of the time. I love nothing more than the unstructured part of summer where they sleep late and run barefoot between our home and the Herbs. They try to sell whatever they can on the street curb with their friends. They swim many hours each week and then wear their suit for the whole day, even to the grocery store. Kathryn and I spent the afternoon on my made bed near our open breezy windows reading Little Women and finished the whole book-we didn’t even try to break it up in to neat chunks. Claire has planted so many seeds, she knows where they all are and waters faithfully. Mostly she likes bedtime and spends time extending the day beyond her capacity. Their heads smell like sweat, they are really in the moment, I adore that. They also “throw down” in a split second over things like who has more grapes or more noodles or kicks from the other that are “accidental”.

    I cherish it! I have a hard time with it too. I really love beer at night when the bedtimes finally come.

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      June 8, 2011 3:03 pm

      I just love this whole comment.

      (I used to have so many impromptu yard sales on my front lawn as a child, mostly selling things I sort of co-opted from the house).

  6. June 8, 2011 3:16 pm

    What a lovely and thoughtful post! It’s funny how I too look forward to summer (even though I am still working part time)… but it’s just about not having the same routine with your kids..letting the days take you where they will. Happy summer to you!

  7. June 8, 2011 4:48 pm

    I loved this writing. Thank you :)

  8. June 9, 2011 6:48 am

    Living in the land of perpetual summer, we’re not experiencing the same shifts in routine, but I was hoping there would be photos of the garden tool rubber band launcher and I’m pretty excited to see that there are. So there’s that.

    I am also officially nostalgic for my own childhood summers, splashing in the river and causing trouble. Summer always meant a fair number of fishermen in the South Platte River valley, which of course as children we felt that we owned. To keep the pesky tourists and their blasted hooks off our favorite stretch of river, we brazenly threw rocks and sloshed around in the water until we had successfully scared the fish, and by extension anyone who had a goal of catching them, away. Looking back, we must have been rather obnoxious!

  9. June 9, 2011 7:28 am

    I asked my kids which one I should send away because they obviously co-exist all day together. My usually sweet, endearing, yet chronically slow Lucy has become beligerent and ornery, calling her brother names at the least provocation. My usually whiny, tired all the time from long days at school Ian is helpful and eager to earn more stickers for his responsibility chart. So I spend my days huddled in my office or weeding the garden, telling myself it is okay for them to fight and figure it out themselves. Welcome to summer!

  10. June 9, 2011 7:44 am

    oh, i love your writing. you say what i’m thinking almost always. so, all that! plus our own weird quirks. it IS crazy how they turn on a dime. the bickering is getting to me, and honestly to them too, i think. they actually toned it down some yesterday. i am struggling with my oldest and how he’s sort of out growing our ‘let’s go piddle in junction creek’ ways. the youngers are still in the thick of it and he’s on the edge…of i’m not sure what…and this momma wants to know. he reads constantly and plays the guitar and does endless back flips on the trampoline….but wants to go the movies and talks about cadillac ‘escalades’ and has a spray bottle full of water for taming his thick curls. new territory. vewy interesting!
    have a good day rachel!

  11. June 9, 2011 9:06 am

    mmmmmm hmmmmm. let’s say i was a butterfly in cold freezy june gloom san francisco and your blog post was nectar warmed by summer sunshine. i could flutter around here all day, unless someone tried to tie a balloon to me, in which case i might die of laughter. (i had a seriously good chuckle from the image of grosbeak plus inflated latex).

    thank you for the metaphor of the crashing jenga game and probability of instant changes…i’ve been noticing lately how much anxiety i carry around that inevitability, how much i try to stave it off…and how much more relaxed i could be if i just knew it was coming and let go into the moment. and *that* is what we are doing here in early june.

    your writing in this post is exquisite, btw. breezeways of your gritted teeth? love it.

  12. ellen permalink
    June 9, 2011 9:41 am

    How precious these summer days are and how fortunate you and the kids are to live in such a safe place that they can explore and play without constant adult supervison and structure. Beautiful writing.

  13. June 9, 2011 11:46 am

    I don’t have any chilluns, but this? Really? “And then the next hour everyone is shattered and broken on the ground and I’m back to my yogic breathing and reminding myself that there is no Eden of certain bliss to return to, there is no criminal child who needs punishment, there is just the next moment to breathe through without drowning in the surf of my own expectations. Soon I am pulling myself up by a string, knotted with moments of grace, dangling above the ocean while the kids have skittered off to play a new game.” FOR THE LOVE OF GOD YOU CAN WRITE YOUR ASS OFF.

  14. June 9, 2011 3:59 pm

    there is definitely a change in the pace, the feel, the overall je ne sais quoi, with summer. (spring? what spring?) imperceptibly, yet abruptly, things changed from waking up while it’s still dark, to going to bed while it’s still light. less and less we are huddled inside under blankets reading, and more and more we are off on some outdoor adventure. we’re going full tilt, taking advantage of summer while it is (momentarily) here. quinn is throwing a lot of spears and shooting bow and arrow, hopefully not at kitty, but also doing tender sweet caretakey things to little plants.

    i love your childrens’ big purple cereal vats. quinn is driving me nuts with not wanting to stop to eat, and a big feeding trough he can grab from as he zooms by would be really good.

  15. June 9, 2011 4:36 pm

    We homeschool so our days throughout the year lack the Go! Go! Go! that many school families experience and yet I STILL yearn for the laziness of summertime when everyone else is on OUR schedule. (Which is to say: NO SCHEDULE.)

    I love summertime.

    • 6512 and growing permalink*
      June 10, 2011 12:12 pm

      We’ll be homeschooling next year and I look forward to the bliss of the unstructured days continuing.

  16. June 9, 2011 9:17 pm

    The reason I cannot possibly ever get a real job again (except perhaps as a teacher) is that as much summer as possible must be spent far far far from the city, by the shores of Ossipee Lake in New Hampshire. By the shores or in the lake, that is. Those weeks of my own childhood just seemed to go on and on and on (though I guess they didn’t, because here I am), and I’d like to give that to my little one.

    I love your breakfast table.

  17. June 10, 2011 9:27 am

    Hmmm…still one more week, plus a half-day of school left, and we’re just holding on to it by our fingernails, forgetting backpacks in Mama (who’s already left for the Y long before the bus comes)’s car or at daycare or out in the driveway, given up on 8:00 as a bedtime, because it’s still light out for another hour, and half the time we’re still at the baseball field, relying more and more on yucky hot lunch from school, because really if I have to make another peanut butter and jelly sandwich that I get to compost 10 hours later, I really may scream. Unstructured summer sounds divine, but we’ll just have to take it in evening and weekend and “sick” day sips around here.

  18. June 12, 2011 3:06 pm

    just got done catching up with ya…. so good
    your peeps remind of my youngest too. always hot or cold mine are…. there isn’t a middle. it’s love or war at all times…. and mostly love, {luckily}
    and I’m always amazed at the array of feelings that get used up over one day….
    summer food and lazy days are being lapped up here too….
    here’s to good times.
    :) Stephinie

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