Summertime and the living is supposed to be easy. That's why my secret ingredient for a perfect summer day is simplicity: We sleep in, have breakfast on our screened porch, go hiking or biking on one of the wooded trails near our house, and pack a picnic lunch. In the afternoon the neighborhood pool offers a chance to cool off. Dinner's easy—hamburgers on the grill and corn on the cob from the local farmer's market. As the sun sets, we play a silly game we invented called alien eggball or we go to one of the three drive-in movie theaters that have survived in Kansas City, Missouri. No stress, no drama, just lots of fun.
In my poll of other Motherboard Moms and their perfect-summer-day dreams, I found that they, too, followed a keep-it-simple formula for summer fun. Here are some of their secret ingredients.
"Turn off your own cell phone and don't check e-mail when spending time with your kids," says Alanna Levine, M.D., a pediatrician in Tappan, New York, and a mom of two, ages 6 and 8, in Nyack, New York. That helps children see that you are really focusing on them, she says. "And modeling is the best way to teach behavior" if you want your kids to go outside away from the electronics, she says.
On her perfect summer days, Dr. Levine spends time outdoors in the backyard or the swimming pool with her children. She guides them in play but lets them explore their own imagination and creativity too. And she's a firm believer in taking turns. "What's fun for one child may not be for the other child," she says. "Spend 30 minutes with one and then 30 minutes with another so you have one-on-one time with each." That way each child gets his or her own slice of perfection.
Jennifer Soldner, blogger at The North Forty, grew up in Maine, fantasizing about the ideal Southern summer day: sitting on the back porch with the smell of jasmine in the air, sipping sweet tea, and watching her kids play. Now that she lives in Virginia with her husband and two kids, ages 3 and 1 (with another due in January), her perfect summer daydream has come true. It's a day outside in their backyard with nowhere to go and no chores, just watching her kids play and use their imaginations, like making mud pies instead of playing video games. "It's pretty easygoing," she says. "And it doesn't cost a cent."
Granted, most of us don't live within walking distance of the Pacific Ocean, like Kathy Sinacori, mom of daughters ages 5 and 8, in Newport Beach, California, does. "I wake up to bright, orangey sunlight streaming in the house," she says. "It's super bright and we have no choice—we have to go to the beach."
Her family hits the beach by 10 o'clock and has pizza delivered there for lunch "right on the sand." Then her husband takes the kids to the pool so she can have an hour or two of being alone, a rarity in the summer when the kids are out of school. That gives her time to shower, throw a load of laundry in the washer, or read a book.
A perfect summer day ends with an informal potluck dinner in the neighborhood. "Everyone's just hanging out while the kids run around like maniacs with Hula-hoops, glow sticks, and Popsicles," she says. "Hubby and I put the kids to bed, still a little sandy but with happy and exhausted smiles. Then we have a nightcap while watching whatever little gem TiVo has saved for us."
As education director for the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, Kara Armstrong's job is most hectic during the summer months, so finding time for a perfect summer day is tough. She and her daughters, ages 5 years and 22 months, do spend a lot of time at the local pool in Mission, Kansas, and that would be a perfect way to spend the morning, Armstrong says. Another favorite summer activity is picking blueberries at a local patch. She and three girlfriends, along with the 12 kids they have between them, take a Friday morning every June to go blueberry picking.
Armstrong admits the rest of her day is more fantasy than reality: Her husband would come home early from work and cook "a fabulous dinner," she says. "Then the kids would go to bed early and cooperatively. We'd sit in the backyard and drink wine and talk. My idea of bliss is pretty mellow."
"We love to go to the lake and spend the day on the water," says Ashlea Christopher, mom of two sons ages 3 and 4 in Kansas City, Missouri. "That's what my brother and I did growing up. It's a big deal in my family." The Christopher family enjoys water skiing and driving over to a quiet spot on the lake for a picnic lunch. At the end of the day, they either cook dinner together in the cabin where they stay or go out to a restaurant, followed by card games or playing dominoes. "It's a time to be together as a family," she says. Her parents, her brother and his family, along with various cousins, may join them, especially for holiday weekends like the Fourth of July.
The first requirement for the perfect summer day for Megan Banderman's family: "We've completed our chores the day before so there's nothing we have to do," says the mom of five, ages 12, 10, 7, 4, and 2, in Calvert City, Kentucky. "It's hard to find those days," she admits.
But when they have a day like that, they like to be spontaneous, she says. They usually spend time outside, perhaps go to the park, the zoo, or the pool, or pack a picnic to the park. They enjoy getting ice cream but with five kids they'll stop at the grocery store for a carton and then take it to the park to eat.
Going to the pool as a whole family is a special treat as Banderman's husband is often working. "That's perfect—a day when all of us can play in the water together," she says.
Family, a boat on the water, and a good book—these are the elements of the perfect summer day for Sherri Hefley, mom of three sons in Oronogo, Missouri.
"We have a little fishing boat," she says. Her husband, an avid fisherman, and the two older boys fish while Hefley sits in the boat and reads a good book. "It doesn't get much better than that," she says.
Elizabeth Givler, mom of three children ages 15, 11, and 7, in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, has her perfect day mapped out—and it doesn't even require her or her family to leave home! She'd begin with breakfast on the patio and craft time with her daughter. For lunch, Givler (who blogs at Autism from the Lighter Side) and her kids "build" their own sandwiches, followed by playing in the sprinkler or having a water balloon fight. During some quiet time in the afternoon, she can take a nap in the hammock while her children read. In the evening, the family has dinner with friends. "The kids catch fireflies and lie in the grass counting stars," says Givler. Now that's perfection!
Spending most of the day outside would please Jessica Payne's family, which includes children ages 6, 4, and 3 years old (and one due in September) in Granby, Colorado. "Fishing is one of our favorite things to do," says Payne. They take a picnic lunch to one of the nearby lakes and end the day with a hot dog roast and cooking s'mores. "We spend the day doing things together and being outside," she says.
"Just a fun day of letting the kids be kids" is Dawn Schnake's idea of a perfect summer day. The mom of two boys ages 7 and 4 in Overland Park, Kansas, says there are a number of summer activities they enjoy: going to the swimming pool, playing on the swingset, coloring with sidewalk chalk, and making up their own games. "Sometimes they spend the whole time making up the rules and never play the game," she says. But it doesn't matter, the "game" is the game-making!
Christine Field, mom of four, ages 13 to 21, in Wheaton, Illinois, credits the great outdoors for contributing to perfect summer days when her kids were younger. "We'd get out and do something in nature, the blogger at Mom Life Navigator says. "First thing in the morning we might visit the arboretum," she says. Later, they might hike through the woods.
In the afternoon to escape the summer's muggy heat, they would visit the "ice-cold library" where Field encouraged her kids to browse and develop new interests. As a homeschooling mom, she assigned reading during the school year but let her kids choose during the summer. The library and the trips to nature helped stimulate young minds, she says: "Fill their brain with new experiences. Let them hatch butterflies if they want."
"Striving for the perfect life is completely unattainable," says Kathy Radigan, mom of children ages 12, 9, and 6 in East Northport, New York, who blogs at My Dishwasher's Possessed. "A perfect summer day is pieces of every great day."
Radigan's sons have learning disabilities and her daughter has an as-yet undiagnosed brain disorder that has mystified specialists, which makes good moments all the more special. "I love those summer days when there's no homework and no 'got to get this done' and no 'got to go there,'" she says. "The sun is gorgeous, the yard looks great, and there are no aphids on the roses."
They can play in the pool (even better if her husband can be home with the kids), they can make sand castles, and they laugh together. "Someone laughs, we're all laughing," she says. "It's a holiday atmosphere—like Christmas, only summer lasts longer."