“Just keep things really simple,” my husband keeps saying.
It’s March, and we’re sitting on the couch after the kids are in bed, and I’m telling him how Spring Break has left me feeling wiped out. Our Spring Break is two weeks long, and I’m unloading a fortnight’s worth of frustration to my husband. The girls fought too much. The twins won’t stay in their stroller. We spent too much money. I am exhausted.
“If two weeks were this hard, how impossible will two months be?” I sigh.
Keep it simple, he keeps saying.
I keep thinking back to last summer, the first one after the twins were born. They were infants, still nursing full-time and extremely portable. Our summer was fun, but it was not simple. Because the boys were so easy to load up and take with us, we went on at least three outings a week, and even if our admission was free, we ended up spending tons of money on food and snacks as well as tons of time hurtling ourselves from one place to the next.
If I learned anything at all over Spring Break, it was that I didn’t have the bandwidth to spend another summer filled with that much activity. My husband was spot-on. Keeping it simple would be my life raft when the waves of summer threatened to pull me under.
Photo by Dominik Martin
Honestly, if it were up to my oldest daughter and I, our plans would look like this: 1) Lay a blanket in the grass. 2) Read. 3) Watch ants build new homes. 4) Feed hungry tummies. 5) Get up and do it all over again tomorrow. Those are the kinds of plans that build a simple summer in my mind.
However, I have a younger daughter who moves through life quite differently than her older sister. Every day with her is made up of plans! And schemes! And staying busy and finding friends to play with and asking questions and DOING STUFF. So finding a harmonious balance between their preferences (along with those of one year old twins) means investing some serious forethought.
In some ways, it seems counter-intuitive to plan for simplicity. Simplicity is, well, simple. If we leave well enough alone, won’t everything fall into place naturally? Perhaps for some families, but not for mine.
I came up with simple scheme of my own, one that would fit perfectly with what my vision for a simple summer, one that rested heavily on one pivotal word: STRUCTURE.
I created a dry-erasable daily plan that hangs on the side of our refrigerator. On it, all of us can see what day it is, what each meal will be, what snacks are available, what our one (one!) activity will be during the twins’ naptime, and whose day it is to be what we call “the helper/chooser” (the girls alternate days serving as Mom’s Helper, and Mom’s Helper also gets to choose her preference when there is a choice to be made regarding anything from ice cream flavors to screen time).
Photo by Megan Tietz
We are a few weeks in to summer break, and our simple system is working wonderfully! However, it does not just happen. To fill our days with a simple structure requires a lot of work on my end. Each weekend, I spend hours planning 3 meals a day for six people, as well as five activities that we’ll do in the week to come.
The time invested on the weekends pays off magnificently each day of the week. The girls check our daily planner often throughout the day and even my nine year old seems to find peace in the predictability it brings to each day. And because all of our meal plans and activities are already determined, I don’t spend the day fielding a million questions about whether or not we can go grab fast food or if we are going to go to Target (again) that day. This means I spend a lot more of my day saying “yes!” instead of “sorry, nope!”
It’s not just the hours it takes to plan activities and meals that feel like a lot of work this summer, it’s also the change in mindset, the hard work of pushing back our culture’s message and my old habits which yell in unison, “Let’s go! Let’s do!” It’s hard work to veer off that well-traveled road to the quieter path of simplicity that says “Let’s stay, let’s be.”
But as I sit amongst the piles of origami creations and sewing projects and library books, I know the hard work of intentional simplicity is well-worth the cost.