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Maybe Summer Bucket Lists Don't Matter

Photograph by Getty Images

Here in Arkansas, we are in the final stretch of summer vacation. Just three more weeks until school starts, and quiet afternoons while the toddler naps are in sight. But it’s not just relief that is settling in. The end of summer guilt has reared its ugly head. Again.

Before my now fourth-grader started school, summers weren’t much different than the rest of the year. Hotter, perhaps, but we trudged along like every other day. Cartoons and snacks and trips to the park consumed our hours, and everyone was content. But since he’s started school, I've felt like I needed to create a summer out of the movies — full of water slides and popsicles, hot dogs roasted over a fire and trips to amusement parks. And for the most part, I’ve done okay.

Until I had another baby.

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For the second year in a row, the summer has flown by. And for the second year in a row, our summer has been void of amusement parks and hot dog roasts, camp outs and movie matinees. Instead it’s a cycle of dirty diapers and naptimes, tantrums at the grocery store and melty ice cream cones. Life with a toddler is a whirlwind, and ain’t nobody got time to plan a trip to Disney.

I love both my kids. I love our imperfect, sometimes chaotic, days at home. So why do I feel so guilty?

I have come to the conclusion that social media is changing the way we view our lives — and not ALWAYS for the better. Do you know how many Summer Bucket Lists I’ve seen pinned? How many whimsical projects and outings, “Take a Vacation in Your Own Hometown!” articles I’ve followed from Facebook, hoping to maybe absorb some of that magic?

But here’s the thing I really wonder: Do the kids even really care?

Friends, it’s just not happening. I can hardly get my toddler through the grocery store right now, let alone drag her through a cross-town scavenger hunt that I’ve meticulously planned. Recently I saw a blog post on how to create these really fun water blobs, where you seal all this water in these big plastic sheets and the kiddos bounce on them for HOURS!

And then I read the instructions and realized that I would probably spend more time putting them together than the kids would be playing on them. No. Just ... no. No water blobs for my kids. I think I’ll just turn them loose with the garden hose and call it a day.

After the kids went to bed the other night, I sat up on the couch, mentally going over everything we’ve done this summer.

It’s a short list.

Frozen yogurt, walks in the park, the occasional play date or trip to the library ... a pretzel at the mall? That about covers it. And once again, I feel guilty.

Bucket List Blues? I’ve got them. But here’s the thing I really wonder: Do the kids even really care?

When I look back on summers from my childhood, I spent most of the day entertaining myself. Grand vacations weren’t planned. There were no “water blobs” or “scavenger hunts” or “spending a day being a tourist in your own city.” I just went outside and played. Read books. Invited a friend over. And for the love of Pete, I stayed out of my mom’s hair.

Is it possible that it’s us adults who are making things so complicated? Are we trying to give our kids the life we never had, or show the other moms that we have it figured out? I think sometimes it’s a little bit of both.

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Thinking about summers from my childhood, it was the bike rides in the cul-de-sac, sleepovers at a friend’s house and water gun fights at dusk that made my summer. Not some crazy project that took my mom half the day to plan.

I’m not hating on the “fun moms.” There’s nothing wrong with making water blobs, if that’s what floats your boat. But if not, that’s cool too.

It’s not my thing either.

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