I Remember Summer


For Lisa Qualls, the summers of today don't resemble the summers of her childhood. But they are equally special, and they are equally filled with joy, laughter, and memory-making.

I remember summer.  My sister, Laura, and I would wake up to the sun shining on the wood floor of the bedroom.  We spent the mornings playing in our backyard or riding bikes up and down the block with the neighbor kids.  Our mom took us to the library once a week , where we checked out tall stacks of books that we plowed through with diligence and delight.  Many afternoons were spent swimming at Chism Beach while our mom studied for graduate classes in the shade.

When I became a mother, I wanted summer days to be relaxed and fun.  With a larger family, there was more work to be done, so my children had significant chores and yard work to do, but there was still plenty of time for play.  Stacks of books to read, afternoons at the local pool, and sleeping out in the yard were foundations to our days.

This summer, my desk is stacked with lists of activities, charts for chores, camp registration forms, and appointment reminders.  As I’ve been working on plans for this summer, I recognize how differently I approach summer as the mother of children from “hard places.”  When we adopted our children, I thought they would fold themselves into the life we were living, but their needs have required us to dramatically change the way we live, which includes how we plan our summer.

Summer days no long flow with ease; they require structure and extensive planning.  A chart hangs on the refrigerator, reminding even my older children to brush their teeth, make their beds, do chores, and so on. Basic hygiene is still a challenge for one of my children, and it isn’t enough to say, “Go brush your teeth;” it needs to be checked off the list. 

Our mornings are geared toward preparing to spend the afternoon at the pool.  When all chores and basic tasks are done, thirty minutes of reading is required, dinner is prepped, and lunch prepared.  We head out the door and to the pool in the early afternoon, where the kids spend the afternoon swimming with friends.  For my seven year-old son with Sensory Processing Disorder, the pool is magical.  The stimulation of the water, the movement and activity, are therapeutic for him.  It is also perfect for my daughter, who finds unstructured time at home to be very challenging.

Camp is also a new development for our family.  I had never been inclined to send my children to camp.  Given the choice between spending money to send them to camp or take the family on vacation, we opted to stick together.  Long road trips were carefully planned and hours were spent listening to Adventures in Odyssey as the miles ticked past.  The children and I were always happy to have Russ off work and spending the days with us, and we were happy to be together.

We have one child with significant needs that are difficult for the family and necessitate regular respite.  Camp provides her with a break from family life that she finds so challenging, and gives the other children a break from the intensity of living with a high-need sibling.  She is very happy in a camp setting with high structure and loads of activities.  The other children enjoy being more relaxed and having more time and attention from Russ and me. 

I miss the lazier days of summer when some of the kids would play outside while others tucked away with books, when friends came over and ran in the sprinkler and popsicles were handed out in the late afternoon.  That is not my life anymore, and I’ve learned that if I fool myself into thinking that I can slip back into that mode of parenting, it will not go well.  I’ve got tools now and resources to help me be the mom I need to be for my children.  If we are going to be successful, then I have to work hard, very hard, to plan a summer that brings happiness to all of my children.  It will not look like the summers we used to have, but it can still be a great summer with many fun days and lots of great memories made.

Last week we took a one day road trip, complete with sightseeing and a picnic at a state park.  It was our first attempt since we adopted our children five years ago.  It required carefully planned snacks, a DVD player, an iPod with ear buds, and plenty of stops, but I am happy to say that it went well.  Russ and I found ourselves feeling hopeful and began to talk about a long road trip to Minneapolis next summer, then we laughed as we realized we were getting ahead of ourselves.  Perhaps a two-day trip will be next in our summer plans.

By Lisa Qualls

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