I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember my mother planning out the perfect summer, hunting for just the right camps or running us to a different activity every day. Sure, there were swim lessons—a must, as my mother liked to lay by the pool and not have us drown. I remember one summer with some tennis lessons, but considering that I haven’t owned a racquet since some time in the ‘80s, I think it’s safe to say it didn’t consume my interests. And of course, nothing can fade the memories of never-ending family road trips spent sprawled out in the backseat with my little brother (no seat belts, of course).
That seems so simple. But it’s not parenting today. Today, we look for the perfect activity, the ideal camp, the best way to have children learn/enjoy/grow. We plan every minute, stalk other parents for recommendations, and scour the internet for insights and suggestions. We stress ourselves to schedule everything: the proper allotment of learning, the right amount of fun, the requisite “memory builders” we think are a *MUST* or our children’s childhoods will be desolate wastelands.
And the world plays into that, giving us an endless array of options to choose from: Astronaut Camp? Cooking Camp? Lego Camp? Jedi Training Camp? Drama Camp? Select just the right one or your children won’t flourish.
Don’t forget—you *MUST* fill vacant days with activities. You cannot subject your children to the horror of staying home. Jumping all day at the bouncy place? Check. Exploring parks and “enjoying” the experience as your body sweats from places you didn’t even know had sweat glands? Check. Trekking two hours outside of town to see bats fly? Hitting the planetarium for a star show? Driving farther than you really should to stand in the blistering sun and pretend to care about huge, plaster dinosaurs? Check, check and—please save me!—check.
Multiple trips to the zoo, museums, the water park, the pool. Shuttling back and forth to swim camp, Vacation Bible School, and beach camp, from which your child will bring home not only items covered in sand, but glitter too. Yep, done it all. I even have the never-ending trail of sandy glitter to show for it. (Really, what did we parents do to deserve the special level of hell reserved for crafts that feature both glitter AND sand?!)
DoWe’ve done so much this summer—you’d think my son would rattle on and on about all of the cool things he’s done, seen, and learned.
You know what he won’t stop talking about? Dirt.
Wondering what’s so exciting about dirt??? A fellow mom, whose brilliance I applaud and toast with an adult beverage, scheduled a soil delivery to help level out her yard. Sounds boring to most of us, but in the eyes of my son, her son, and other friends’ children: AWESOME.
Cue a dump truck filled with 12 cubic yards of “Grade A” dirt (or however you rate soil), stand back, and watch the kids squeal.
The level of excitement was equal to a group of moms being given unlimited alone time at Target.
Digging in with glee, the kids had a blast. Shovels, buckets, toy trucks, and little wheelbarrows were deployed in earnest. They climbed to the top of the pile and chanted, “Dirt Party! Dirt Party! Dirt Party!” They became amateur archeologists, digging to discover what was in the dirt. They imagined they were paleontologists studying coprolite (fossilized dinosaur poo—I did learn some things on our dinosaur adventure after all). They pretended they were mountain climbers, construction workers, engineers, and farmers. They got filthy and loved every minute of it.
Their big imaginations and little bodies were more active in that pile of dirt than they’d been all summer. And we moms looked at each other wondering why we’d stressed about keeping them busy. In the rush to keep up with the craze of everything that’s pushed at us and the voices that say we *MUST* fill every minute of every day with the most engaging, teachable activities imaginable, we forgot how simple kids can be.
Like us, they need a break. Like us, they enjoy not being overprogrammed. Like us, they just want to hang out and have a good time. That doesn’t require the perfect camp or exquisitely planned activities, just some down time and the freedom to make a mess.
For more than a week after “we” played in the dirt (I say that because while the kids had a blast, our husbands were sweating it out, moving wheelbarrows of dirt around the yard while the moms enjoyed adult beverages and “supervised”—I told you my friend was brilliant!), that dirt party was all I heard about. My son pestered me to check in on the dirt, to find out how it was doing, and what else needed to be done.
“Is the dirt still there?”
“Did you see all of the cool things I did in the dirt?”
“When can we go back and do more dirt business?”
So the next time you’re facing down an unscheduled day, get dirty. Let your kids be kids. Let them run in the sprinkler, play outside, make mud pies, or find coprolite. Cut yourself some slack, keep it simple, and know that the best memories and learning opportunities might just be buried in a big pile of dirt.