our best list yet

It was the second week of June, and summer was upon us. I had in my hand a list, as I often do. Neatly written across the top of the page was something like OUR SUMMER TO-DO LIST.

 My list handwriting often starts out neat, deliberate, even sort of fun in its optimism. By the end of the list, scrawl has taken over. In this one, “Trip to the Beach” and “Teach Drama Camp in New Bern” looked fabulous. “Clean out the shed” was somewhere near the middle, and it was legible but less robust. And poor old “Mama/Daddy Date” was just a mess down at the bottom.

Still, I had hope for my list, for the feeling of productivity and balance it was going to bring to our summer lives. I was ready to reveal my list to my unsuspecting husband, a quick stopover before I opened up our Google calendar and started plugging stuff in.

And there he was, standing in the kitchen, sighing over the amount of food we still had left to make for the week. With two more days of teaching work left in his school calendar, he looked     well          rough. I mean, handsome, of course, but          a bit worse for the wear. There is a reason teachers don't teach for two months in the summer.

I count it as progress that the list-loving, Utopian-schedule-seeking, this-can-work-if-we-just-PLAN-it-hard-enough part of me took a breath. I decided this was not the moment for my summer to-do strategy session.

I would like to tell you that I tossed the list. I did not. My list and I held our breaths for a better time. A few days later, I found this magical Better Time, presented my list, and--though my husband questioned the sheer number of things on the list--he generally agreed that these were the Things We Needed to Accomplish.

When I sat down with Google and its shared calendaring wizardry, I remembered last summer. I remembered that, actually, we had a pretty sucky summer last year. I remembered us saying to each other, sometime in August, “Finally it feels like summer. And now summer is over.”

That memory shocked my system a little bit.

I’m just going to say this awkward thing: Sometimes even the things we *want* to do feel like obligation. Trips and vacations and even parties are not the same when you have small kids. Can they be awesome and fun in a new way? Yes and yes.  Are they as free, as full of down time, as spontaneous, even remotely relaxing? Ah          no.

For us, those fun things had started to feel like to-dos. On a to-do list. Items that could be crossed off when we successfully implemented them.

We didn’t want to *accomplish* summer. We wanted to *feel* like it was summer.

The three of us made this new list:


baseball games

the beach

days at the pool

the spray mister on the front lawn and grilling out

sungold tomatoes and padron peppers from the farmers' market

popsicles, ice cream, and frozen grapes

strawberry rhubarb pie

sparklers and fireworks

the mist at the museum of life and science

shelling field peas and shucking corn

farm time

books on the beach

Guess what? A beach trip on the FEELS LIKE SUMMER list was different than a beach trip on the SUMMER TO-DO list. What can I say? Words matter.

I'm looking at our FEELS LIKE SUMMER list, and I see we didn't do all the things on it. We did a lot of them. Some days we decided to miss out on summer instead.

I also looked back on that first SUMMER TO-DO list. We did way fewer of these things. And I don’t give a shit. Because for pretty much the whole season, it felt like summer—popsicle drippy, sand in your flip-flops, kiddo-who-learned-to-swim summer. And we still got to see a decent number of the people we love.

So we’ve been building our FEELS LIKE FALL list. My husband and I both have busy months ahead professionally, and he’s in grad school, too. That makes it even more important that we have our FEELS LIKE FALL list. It will remind us that there is only this one fall, right now, with this child, with each other, at this age. We won’t get another chance at this. Let’s embrace this season.

I'd love to know what would be on your FEELS LIKE FALL list. Comment here or email me.

PS: Over the years, I’ve been inspired by the way Soulemama embraces the seasons with her family. Our family life is not like hers at all, and still her seasonal family life has stuck with me.

Exclamation points courtesy of one enthusiastic four-year-old.

Exclamation points courtesy of one enthusiastic four-year-old.