This is the first week of summer. The kids are full of excitement and parents are looking at each other with anticipation…or anxiety…of what the hot, upcoming months may bring.
Calendars are filling up with camps, lessons, tutors, and structured activities. Daylight hours are being packed full and every minute is being managed. Parents are preparing for their months as Uber drivers, hauling their children from one activity to the next, doling out snacks in the car, smothering sunscreen on the run, and collapsing exhausted at the end of each day.
When did this become the summer norm? What happened to long days at the pool, with no swim lessons, hours playing in a field without soccer drills, laying on the beach building sandcastles without Jr Guards, or checking out a big stack of library books to read on the lawn without writing practice attached? What happened to long, lazy pajama filled mornings, making pancakes? Late nights at the pool, swimming long after the sun has gone down and the pool lights have come on? Kids riding their bikes all over the neighborhood just to feel the wind on their faces like they are flying?
We have become so preoccupied with planning future activities, worrying about academic achievement of the new school year, and spinning on the wheel of being consumed by a need to fill every minute with something “meaningful,” that we are anywhere but in the present moment.
We only have 18 summers with our kids. Eighteen summers that fly by in a flash of sunscreen and bathing suits. Being mindful of that time is an amazing way to get the most out of each of those summers. I want to soak up every minute with my kids in those 18 summers, and being a mindful mama will help me do just that.
Although not every minute will be mindful, and there will be frazzled days and tired days, I am hoping to try and remember to be mindful *most* of the time.
Stop and Smell the Roses
When we fill our summer days with activities, scheduling back to back camps, playdates, lessons, and practices, we leave no room for living in the moment. When we are rushed and over scheduled, we are always looking towards the next activity, the next place to be, or the next day’s schedule, which leaves little room for enjoying the moment. In a mindful summer, we will purposely not overly schedule our days. We are going to get up early and hike a mountain to watch the sunrise. We are going to get on our bikes with some water and snacks and ride and ride and ride until we are exhausted. We are going to get to the beach in the morning and not leave until we have swam in the waves at sunset. We are going to stay in our pajamas all day, read books, watch movies, and eat ice cream. We are going to go to a museum and wander around for hours. Most importantly, we are going to be aware of what each day brings with all of our senses.
Notice What is Showing Up
Each day, we face a multitude of thoughts and feelings within ourselves and from our family members. Often times, we unknowingly react to the emotions of those around us and this can quickly escalate. This is especially challenging when we all spend a lot more time together in the summer.
We will work to support ourselves, and our kids, in noticing emotions and in understanding that big feelings are okay. Each time we practice noticing what is arising, including anxiety, sadness, frustration, enthusiasm and anger, we lessen the emotion’s power so that it doesn’t dictate our reaction. We are then able to respond to the feeling in our own thoughtful way.
By practicing noticing our emotions over the summer, we will be better equipped come fall, when the added pressures of the school day and homework are added. In this way, “naming the emotions to tame them” will become easier and more automatic and make dealing with difficult emotions easier during stressful times.
Gratitude For What Is Around Us
I remind myself, and in turn my kids as they sit in the car while I am saying it, that we have so much to be thankful for. However, when days are whirling by, it is easy to get get caught up in the stressors of life and forget to remember all the people, events, and things in our life to be grateful for. During a mindful summer, we are going to be purposeful about having gratitude. At meal times, we are going to discuss what we can be thankful for from the day. We are going to text, call, or write to people in our lives who we are grateful for and tell them why we have gratitude for them. We are going to keep a family gratitude journal, and when something comes up, we can add to it. We will also be mindful throughout the day to stop and acknowledge when something arises that brings about a feeling of gratitude including sunsets, a yummy treat, a hug, time with a friend, the sun shining, our favorite song on the radio…the possibilities for gratitude are endless!
Without the strain of school schedules and homework, summer is a great time to practice compassion, both towards ourselves and others. We are going to take time each day to shine compassion on ourselves, including the wish for happiness and health, as well as send compassionate thoughts to people who bring us joy as well as those who we may find difficult. These daily thoughts remind us that we all deserve compassion and happiness. As we practice giving ourselves kindness and compassion, we build the awareness that makes showing others compassion and kindness more natural.
However, we will do more than just send compassionate thoughts. We will make an effort to have compassionate actions by spending time sorting food at the food bank, supporting friends who are sick or hurt, bringing flowers to neighbors, and taking sandwiches to those in need in our community. We will practice choosing compassion for ourselves and others.
Finally, during a mindful summer we will take mindful breaks. This will look different at different times. It may be sitting quietly on the floor focusing on our breath. It may be laying in the grass and concentrating on each part of our body, noticing any sensations we may experience. It may be taking five deep breaths in the car before sending the kiddos off to their activities. It may be taking a mindful walk, noticing all the sounds, smells, sights, and thoughts that arise.
The mindful breaks can take place when they seem most needed, such as when difficult emotions are running ramped or when we need to calm down to transition. But, they can also happen just because. Taking these mindful breaks gives us the chance to practice being in the present – noticing emotions and sensations, compassion, gratitude, and responding rather than reacting to whatever is showing up. These are all vital tools that my children will be able to take with them into the next school year.
We are well aware that not everyone has the time to have a mindful summer that looks just like this. Families have work, children have obligations, and life still needs to continue. Also, each family can find the best fit for them. Taking a few moments each day to plant the seeds of mindfulness, however it may look for your family, will make the summer more enjoyable and allow these seeds to continue to grow as you and your family move into the next school year.
With only 18 summers with our children, let’s set an intention to be as present and aware as we possibly can so we can fully enjoy all that life and our families have to offer.