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Sunny Side Up

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I’m thinking ahead to July and I have to admit I look at the big, red circle on the calendar indicating the last day of school with mixed emotions.

Before I had children, I pictured myself as a mother lolling on a lounger, watching the kids play peacefully in the yard, whiling away the summer days with an air of tranquility. Reality is that once in a while, when the stars align, that happens. However, the majority of our days are a lot more active. Keeping kids busy and entertained all summer can be a lot of work!

I start each summer aiming to be one of those mothers who has daily worksheets and journal writing time to keep the kids up to speed academically. I laugh every autumn when I read the children’s journals. Right after school ends, there is a spurt of daily entries, detailing our summer days, some of them even accompanied by hand-drawn pictures. By mid-July, the number of entries has dwindled, and once the end of August hits, I start reading one-liners that show up about twice a week. “Played catch with Ryan. Going to try and beat Kingdom of Hearts this afternoon—Later!” Short, sweet and to the point.

     I love those summer journals, though. As brief as the entries may be, they chronicle days of going to the pool, hitting the beach, playing games of kickball in the backyard.

As for the daily worksheets, they are a great idea … in theory. However, enforcing work before play puts me in the position of being a naggy mother, and I really hate that role. It generally backfires anyway. Instead, I usually just compile a packet of worksheets for each child, and when they are bored or it is raining outside, they can use them to fill their time.

One thing Alan and I do insist on is summer reading. Our children read for a half-hour every day during the summer, rain or shine. My true harvest moment happens when, after their 30 minutes is up, they choose to continue reading instead of watching TV or playing on the computer. Yay!

We’ve had elaborate reading charts and incentive programs in the past, but what really works is hitting the library or local bookstore and finding a series that interests them. Bronson had the “Magic Tree House” summer, after first grade. He read the prolific writings of Mary Pope Osbourne, not only getting invested in the characters, but falling in love with the idea of history and world travel.

Now, is every summer day at our house a hive of industry and productive activity? I’m laughing as I write this. Let that be a resounding “No!”

There are days when I honestly think I live in a zoo. When they are not trying to kill each other, they are off pulling stunts that could kill themselves. We’ve had children jump off swings and break limbs, shear off permanent teeth on the trampoline, sprain fingers skateboarding and contract very nasty cases of poison ivy while camping.

I know there are days I yell so loud, I am sure my neighbors close the window and wish the harpy next door would take a chill pill or send her kids off to a very long summer camp. I try and keep perspective that we all have those days. By the way, if you don’t, can you e-mail me your secret?

Before you know it, the air is getting a bit cooler, and touches of rust and gold are changing the leaves, signs that school is just around the corner. I am one of those moms who keeps Kodak in business, taking a gazillion photos of each child as they wait at the bus stop on that first day of school. I am also one of those moms who waves until the bus is completely out of sight and then walks into the empty house afterward, breathes a sigh of relief that all five children survived another summer, and promptly calls some girlfriends to meet for lunch.    

Kelly Taylor, her husband, Alan, and their five children in 2008 moved from their Liverpool home of 10 years to Greenville, N.C.

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York