Brianna Heldt is a writer, speaker, and radio show host. She blogs at www.briannaheldt.com, has been a featured guest on BBC Radio, and her work can regularly be found in other online publications as well. A convert to the Catholic Church, Brianna explores topics ranging from faith and social issues to adoption and large family life. She and her husband make their home in Denver, along with their eight children.
Middle-school finals have been taken, elementary field day has been completed, an assortment of report cards has come home, and over-stuffed backpacks filled with cookie crumbs and broken pencils have been abandoned in our ever-cluttered mudroom.
Summer is, officially, now in full-swing.
Back in our homeschooling days, the annual season of bee-stings and sunburns was not such a big change from the norm. We were always home, all of us, every single day. But now that seven of my dear children attend traditional schools—where they are occupied and supervised by paid superhuman professionals for most of their waking hours—summer for our family of ten necessitates some level of, ahem, transition.
Basically, it takes us all a little bit of effort to find our groove again, to get past the initial shock of “WE ARE ALL HERE TOGETHER NOW ALL OF THE TIME”—which, though a good thing, is also occasionally cause for tear-filled fights on the trampoline and disputes over whether so-and-so’s driveway soccer goal was, in fact, legitimate. (And then sometimes the game ends abruptly, because a determinedly competitive child falls and rips his knee open for the third time in a week, and you secretly experience a rush of relief because now there won’t be any more poor sportsmanship or arguing. God works all things for the good, amiright?)
Anyhow, I thought I’d share some of our secrets for summertime survival, wherein I discuss the various strategies for how my dear husband and I manage to happily coexist, with our eight kids, for three long months.
Outside, outside, outside: Now this is just plain common sense, people. Summer 101. But as far as it depends on you, take advantage of the great outdoors! I personally force my poor formerly-classroom-dwelling children to spend most of their time, and eat their lunches, outside of the house. Not only does this kill some major daytime hours (and buy me time to think and write in peace), but I figure the fresh air is good for them, there’s certainly plenty to do and explore and imagine, and this way the birds and raccoons eat all the dropped food that I now don’t have to sweep up. Winning! Now our own family happens to live on a little over an acre with an overgrown field, a trampoline, and a pool, which helps. But you really only need a modest yard (or even just a teeny-tiny porch or deck on which to eat PB&J)) to begin to implement this most important of survival techniques.
Unstructured playtime: This goes along with what I said above, but we must give those boys and girls some time to just be. They’ve been cooped up all year reading books, taking math tests, and being embarrassed by the year-end unit on the human body, and you as their parent shouldn’t have to spend your summer dreaming up elaborate crafts and games for them to do. (Seriously, the thought of that may or may not make me want to crawl right out of my skin. I DO NOT DO CRAFTS.) They’re kids, for goodness’ sake, and if nothing else they ought to be at least mildly entertained by hunting for snakes behind the garage, or pretending to be ghosts in hopes of scaring away nearby golfers trying to perfect their swing. Not that my kids like to climb up onto the playhouse roof and do that or anything. Let their brains decompress and come up with activities, on their own, as much as possible. Just as a frame of reference, my kids (ages three through twelve) spent their first full day of summer jumping on the trampoline, playing card games, shooting baskets, and coloring. I wasn’t involved, at all, though I should also warn you that ground rules will need to be set if you want to avoid the pitfall of a child digging an ugly hole IN YOUR LAWN, with a shovel, in order to find one small worm. One. Which she will then proceed to place in an old gum container, and keep in her bedroom. As a pet.
Occasional structured activity: Every once in awhile, it’s fun to leave the worm at home and get dressed, locate matching shoes, and get out of the house. Starting in mid-June, my kids participate on a swim team at a nearby rec center—practices four mornings per week, and meets on Saturdays. (Littler ones take lessons as well.) It gets us up and going for an hour each day, is great exercise for the kiddos, and sitting in the sunshine by the pool is not such a bad way for a mom to spend some time. Another thing we like to do is meet up at the park for a bring-your-own picnic dinner with friends, two nights a month. The dads wear themselves out playing basketball (the original impetus for these get-togethers), while the moms chat and the kids run around. So easy (and requires little planning), but so much fun! Our family also has a zoo pass, the kids will attend Totus Tuus in July, and of course we also make sure to have at least one or two evenings throughout the season where we make s’mores around our firepit, while we watch the raccoons eat rotten lunchmeat out of our trashcans.
Family game and movie nights: We love a dice game called “Chicken”, things like Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride, Wii tournaments, and all piling onto the couch and watching stuff—all together, all ages, as a family. I know this may get more difficult as our older kids get older (and perceive themselves as too cool for everybody else), but for now, there is plenty we can all happily do in the same room. (Most recently we enjoyed the films “Anne of Green Gables” and “Minions”.) And no, we don’t do something like this EVERY night, because sometimes I’m tired and prefer to collapse kid-free in my bed, with ice cream and a grown-up TV show, no later than 8 pm. But it’s sure fun when we do, and I think having fun together is crazy important when, well, large-family-life tends to be so crazy. (Warning: as much as you might long to emulate the family-centeredness of the Waltons, do not even attempt to engage in a family night if you are already at your wit’s end after a long day. It could easily result in you shouting, pounding your fist on the game table, and the ensuing sound of The Tears of Many Children. You may think you can handle it, until you’re triggered when a child or spouse beats you at a game, or when you finally snap due to the incessant plot-related questions spouted during a two-hour-long movie. Not that I would know any of this first-hand.)
Waiting for mommy to go into labor: Now this is admittedly a “bonus” summer survival strategy, being that it’s not really something you can plan out or make happen at the drop of a hat—this is, in fact, my first summer giving it a try. (My other four biological children were born in the fall and winter.) But being due with child number nine in just a few weeks, I am seeing that baby girl is definitely occupying everybody’s minds. I am, for example, receiving multiple comments per day about the size of my belly (and my arms, and my slightly-swollen, spider-vein covered feet—”Mom, I didn’t know the rest of you got bigger too!”), and people seem to get really concerned when I waddle through the house groaning about the various aches and pains related to pregnancy in your mid-thirties. There are also assorted mood swings to be endured, the resulting plaintive prayers from the children that “Mommy will feel better”, and my issuing daily orders of “WE NEED TO DO ALL OF THE THINGS BEFORE BABY COMES!” Anticipating this baby is clearly keeping all of us very, very busy. And once she arrives, I figure the kids will divide their time between arguing over whose turn it is to hold her, and oooohhing and ahhing over the beautiful miracle of new life, of a precious new baby sister they’ve been waiting months—years, really, as we sadly lost a baby to miscarriage two summers ago—to hold. We’d initially thought we’d be taking a road-trip to California this summer (road-tripping is definitely a viable though anxiety-laden summer survival strategy) to visit friends and the beach, but we are having a baby, instead. Which means our world will shortly be turned upside down, sleep will be hard to come by, and all of the other strategies I’ve just told you about? They’ll get thrown out the window in lieu of a more general and desperate white-knuckling survival mode. But this mode will be punctuated by sweet newborn noises and cuddles, and the uniting of every single one of us, all together, in our love for a brand new little girl.