When A Mother’s Grand Summer Plans Get Rearranged

August 2, 2013 | 33 comments

I am one of those good-intentioned mothers who makes a list the start of every summer of all the wholesome and educational activities I’ll do with the girls through the summer.

I buy glossy math workbooks in May, hoping that the extra work will help the children retain what they learned the previous school year — and maybe have a jump on the new season of learning. I pledge to do flash cards, visit every museum in a 100-mile radius, study  star charts, participate faithfully in the library’s book club, and take leisurely nature walks to give my children a sense of appreciation for horticulture and geology.

I announced this ambitious plan back on the first summer day, while the girls ate a well-balanced breakfast of scrambled eggs, whole wheat, yogurt, and strawberries. And, then I promptly resharpened their school pencils.

Both of my girls stared blankly at me, with slow blinking eyes, as they slowly chewed their toast. Then, they skittered to a far corner of the house to plot out a summer with more sunscreen and ice cream.

Girls: 145 points
Mom: 5 points

It’s the start of August, and the new school year is already threatening to kick summer and its hot breath out the door.

That list I was telling you about? Yeah. So. We’ve visited exactly one museum. If the breakfasts are well-balanced, the credit goes to the vitamin fortification of boxed cereal.  Our geology lesson amounts to the rock collection I discovered after I heard something sounding like an avalanche coming from the clothes dryer. And that arsenal of workbooks? Maybe the girls hid them.

At this point, a mom can do one of two things. She can look at the list and determine that she has ruined the lives of her impressionable children.

Or she can make a new list — a list of what really happens on summer vacation. 

I started making a new list the other day, the day that I walked up approximately 52 flights of stairs with the girls and their dad to stand at the mouth of a waterpark ride. This ride was something akin to a swirling vortex of terror.

Innocent people are plummeted into the thrill ride like being shot from a cannon, straight into the depths of the “Howlin’ Tornado.” Terrified riders cling to plastic handles on an inflated tube.

Clarification: I was terrified. My husband cackled hysterically. On our third trip down, I saw Anna whispering to her older sister. I asked her what they were conspiring. “Well,” she said hesitantly. “I’m not sure I should tell you this, but … um … Dad told us to watch your face during the ride, because it’s the funniest thing ever.”

I perhaps have hit a new level of crazy, but that ride of sheer terror is toward the top of my new summer list, the real list. And there’s more:

— We haven’t had many nature walks, but we climbed a few trees and marveled at how a branch can hold a person.

— Despite a goal to sharpen our musical dexterity over the summer, Lydia’s clarinet has been removed from its case exactly twice; however, we’ve had a number of all-out dance parties before bedtime.

— We still don’t know as many constellations as I would have liked, but man, you could just about cry when you stretch out on your back next to a little fishing lake in Minnesota and look up at that gorgeous sky, with your sweaty kids breathing next to you.

Our list has more sugar and mud and SPF-50 and waffle cones and hip-hop and go-carts and swirling vortexes than I had intended. But the truth is, summer is the skinned elbow, the front seat of a roller coaster, the last S’more, the bellyflop in the pool, the chore boots, the firefly in the jar, and the crowded bed when the thunderstorm rumbles.

This is the list, the real list, the list that made our summer a real summer. It’s everything the mother never planned, but everything we actually needed.

by | August 2, 2013 | 33 comments


  1. Jillie

    What a delightful read, Jennifer! Sounds to me like you’re having the VERY BEST kind of summer, where sweet memories are made over the simplest things in life. Spontaneous days. Just being together doin’ fun stuff. Days you pray will live on in your girls’ memories, forever. Life is good, amen?

  2. Lisa Buffaloe

    Awww I love this, Jennifer! Thank you for sharing your adventures. Isn’t it interesting how our plans get side-tracked. I love when God allows us to enjoy the days with our families.

    Still smiling at your fun …

  3. Amy

    I was hoping for a picture of your face on the Vortex. 🙂 I was just thinking that this summer we haven’t been to the park even one time, we’ve spent more time in than out, and I am not even sure what happened to our bucket list. Eh. They’ll just remember how loved they are, right?

    • dukeslee

      Oh Amy… I sort of wish I had a photo, too. 🙂

  4. Jody Lee Collins

    Oh, Jennifer, you are one smart mama. I recommend ‘hitting a new level of crazy’ on a regular basis. As a classroom teacher I can tell you the best learning happens in life and daily ness and hanging out with parents and laughter and fireflies and stargazing. You will never learn the value of that in books.
    Perfect summer post. Perfect.

    • dukeslee

      I really value your words, Jody, and I suspect that others in the comment box this week do as well. Thanks much!

  5. debyholtschlag

    love the way you are training your girls to be the best future mommies – throughout all the seasons – delighting in Him and enjoying life by Living for and In Him! What memories you are gifting them with.

  6. Angie Vik

    Fun pictures. Life’s kind of like that too. It’s not just summers that don’t go as planned. Sometimes the best moments are unplanned.

  7. S. Etole

    That last photo pretty much says it all.

    • Brandee

      Agree with Susan.

  8. Cori D.

    I love this post! I’m always a little over-the-top at the beginning of summer. I even told my kids we were doing “boot camp” at the beginning of this summer! ha ha! But I think the memories made — and relationships built — are worth much more than formal academics. Lots of learning still takes place.

  9. lynndmorrissey

    I think that I missed the Good-Mother genes when God was passing them out, and I never had the good sense to realize it. In Sheridan’s twenty-one (nearly–her b/day is Aug., 28) years of life, I have never made an educational adventure list. We simply rose when we rose and did what we did, and I tried to meet most of her requests. Thus far, the only complaint that she has had was the Summer of the Peanut Butter. I’m not a cook, and without my husband at home (like when he cooks supper) to do the honors, I literally fed the poor child peanut butter every, single day–albeit with some variety: like peanut butter on apples (really almost tastes like candy apples if you employ your vivid imagination!), peanut butter and jelly, peanut butter and honey, peanut butter and bananas, or for real girls: peanut butter straight from the jar. Mind you, I only use organic sans additives and it’s the kind that separates and needs to be stirred. But even with all these amazing health beneifits, admittedly, Sheridan was not impressed with Peanut-Butter Gastronomic Paradise. But she survived, and we survived summers, plan-less, spent serendipitously under the summer sun. But your real list and the ideal one are certainly worthy of emulation. I will think about them till next summer! =] Love you much, Miss Jennifer! You’re the greatest!

    • dukeslee

      Peanut butter from the jar. I raise my hand in agreement!

  10. Kris Camealy (@KrisCamealy)

    Ahh, sounds like an amazing summer to me. We had similar goals, a rough sketch of all the things we’d do every day. We’ve done a few of them, more than last year, and we have done several unplanned things–like tasting cotton candy for the first time (my children, not me;) and sporting mermaid tattoos (the press on kind, as they are all under age!) 😉 My boys have baked bread and learned to make scrambled eggs. I’m calling it a win. Even if we haven’t touched our Latin or German. Cheers to you my friend, to really living and not being afraid to chuck the list and fly. XO

  11. Megan Willome (@meganwillome)

    This was so well-written, Jennifer. Just loved it.

    Our summer has been what we needed—a daughter busy with her favorite thing (theater, twice) and a new thing she’s really enjoying (dance team). We have not made all the progress I’d hoped, but like you, I do see little things. Making it this far seems like a real accomplishment.

  12. Trish

    Ditto! And amen to all of it!

  13. Mindy

    Your last photo – importance personified! You are a wise Mama : )

  14. Kim

    I agree with Mindy. That last photo is the very best one of all. (Though the nutty bars might be a close second. Not really!) It appears you had an amazing summer. Hope it continues until the school bus arrives.

    • dukeslee

      Kim and Mindy, I loved that one, too. Lydia saw it yesterday and said, “Oh, Mom, what a strange picture. I look so exhausted.” And I said, “That’s because you were.” Summer has worn them out good. 🙂

  15. Leah Adams

    The best laid plans of mice and men and mothers…. I know you had a great summer. Love the pics!!

  16. Brandee

    You’re doing it right. It’s supposed to be about the break. I love your SPF-50 bellyflop list.

  17. Michelle Eichner

    “everything the mother never planned, but everything we actually needed.” – my favorite line. So like God! That’s what He’s doing in this new season & new chapter of our lives. Everything I never planned (or even thought I wanted), but everything we will need. Thanks for the encouragement friend! Hugs, ME

  18. Tammy (Sweet blessings!)

    I LOVE this post! Cheering LOUDLY for you as you and your girls discover hidden Summer lists that will forever bring laughter to your hearts and smiles in years to come! If God had blessed me with being a Mama…I’d want to be Just. Like. You! Sweet blessings!

  19. Donna Blum

    We are so alike, you and me…thank goodness for rearranged plans!

    • dukeslee

      Yes … yes we are, Donna. Missin’ you. Think of you often.

  20. Lea

    Sounds like a wonderful summer to me and much like we use to have around here when our kids were home. Keep making those memories, they will be over before you know it, mine are now 34 and 37 and making memories with their own children. WOW! how did that happen?

  21. glendachilders

    … and you created wonderful memories that will sustain your girls for years to come.


  22. Elizabeth Stewart

    I’ve always loved your words, but your photos just keep getting better and better as well!

  23. Janet

    Such fun ! And such good memories for your girls – I imagine them, years from now, writing about all of the un-plans, and un-lessons that they loved to do and learn – way back when in their childhood… You’ve blessed them with priceless!

  24. Candace Creates

    I make that same exact list at the beginning of every summer- the museums, hikes, textbooks… None of it gets crossed off as done. That waterpark ride makes me nauseous just thinking about it. I think riding it with your kids gives you credit for an entire summer list :). I LOVE the last picture of your girls walking down the street. That, to me, is summer.

  25. Charity Singleton Craig

    Think I missed this last year – so glad to read it now, earlier in the summer, when that list I made for the boys still seems kind of possible. Now, I know it’s not. Time to make a new list, a different list.

  26. Ann Kroeker

    Wahoo! I don’t like those rides, but I like that the kids like those rides, and so I send them off with their dad and each other and sit on the side, waving.


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