My children are much more relaxed in the summertime, as most children are. When they are homework-free, their sports seasons have ended and their camp day starts later, they find time to be creative and laugh more together. They pick up a book and get cozy in a chair. They seem to be healthier and happier with all of the unstructured time.
As the summer fades, I always vow to hold on to these slower-paced routines and also the peaceful attitude I embody after vacation, when stress rolls off my back, nobody is in a rush and I feel genuinely connected to my children.
But sustaining these behaviors when life’s pace cranks up, the commitments pile on and there are no more lazy vacation mornings is close to impossible.
I have a few ideas of how to extend summer, at least for mealtimes.
1. Keep logistics away from the table. Our vacation meal conversations are entirely different than those during the school year. On vacation, we don’t talk about schedules, carpools and backpacks that need to be packed. Our conversations seem to broaden. Some memorable ones have been the qualities of a great president, being a city or country person, and the selling points of different ice cream flavors. These conversations, whether serious or not, were fun. It is easy to lose the fun and get bogged down in the routine when vacation ends. Try to keep logistics away from the table.
2. Eat outside as long as the weather permits. We hear the noises of the city in our little back yard, but we also hear the birds, watch the leaves in the breeze and breathe in fresh air, all of which eases us. So as the temperature drops, we are going to grab sweaters, maybe even hats, and prolong the outdoor eating as far into the fall and winter as possible.
3. Slow the pace of dinner. I love the leisurely pace of summer dinners because I feel more present. I never seem to be rushing my kids to finish their meal, probably because there isn’t homework to finish or a strict bedtime to meet. To relax and be present at mealtime, I sometimes set a time frame. I don’t disclose to my kids that I have allotted 35 minutes for dinner, but during that 35 minutes I promise myself I won’t rush them, I won’t get up and start the dishes or get distracted. I will simply remain engaged. It really helps.
4. Turn on the music. We listen to more music during the summer, and it sets such a joyful mood in our household. Sometimes the kids start to unconsciously dance or sing, which is a clear signal of their summer ease. Our dinners feel more carefree with music — not just classical to calm everyone, but whatever Top 40 song the boys are into, or another round of “Old MacDonald” for my daughter.
5. Keep fresh food accessible. In the summertime it is easy: Fresh tomatoes, peaches and blackberries are at our fingertips and require no cooking to satisfy. They sit on the table and are plucked up by anyone anytime without guilt or argument. This practice doesn’t have to end with summer. In the fall, apples and pears can be at the ready, and other fresh, sliced vegetables can sit in the fridge waiting for snack time. Fresh feels good all year long.
Here’s to prolonging the Zen of summer.
Seidenberg is co-founder of Nourish Schools, a D.C.-based nutrition education company.