We just finished a glorious, two and a half week Spring Break. I know, if you live in another state, that seems crazy. But, as a friend said yesterday, in Jackson, during mud-season, after the long winter (actually, we didn't have much winter at all this year) a long break is needed. It was so wonderful to have my girls home. To have no homework. To pack picnics instead of school lunches. To stay in jammies until ten. To let them play. We were gone for six days in Utah, and then spent the remainder at home. The weather was pretty cruddy, but we managed a few bike rides, a hike, and some special girl outings: popcorn and the new Cinderella movie, a fancy lunch at a downtown restaurant, and a trip to the library.
I found myself thinking a lot about the daily routine of vacation, and how to provide balance in those lazy, carefree days. School (whether at home or away) provides so much structure. On a typical day, my little munchkins are at school from 8:15 - 3:20. When they get home, they have 1.5 - 2 hours of homework, so, between dinner, baths (okay, those only happen once a week!) bedtime stories, and a few chores, there is very little free playtime. When they were on break, I found myself just wanting to let them be. To let them keep the sleepy snaggles in their bedraggled hair, and not make them get dressed until they decided it was time to put on dress-up clothes for whatever game they were engaged in. I didn't want to impose a schedule. But you know what happens? At least in my house?
Free play gradually unravels into utter chaos. And then Mommy has to firmly reestablish some boundaries. We have to get dressed. We have to brush our teeth. And I have to organize and direct some sort of productive activity in order to regain order and control in our wild house.
Does that happen in your homes? Oh, freedom is good. Our little ones need to learn to play. On their own. Imaginatively. Together. But, too much freedom is not good. Because the game of "Little House on the Prairie" becomes dresses strewn across bedrooms and breadcrumbs in empty bureau drawers. And fighting children who just want to drink cocoa in their bedrooms, not pretend to be children from another time period. I find my silverware under the bed, and a box of just-organized 3T clothes scattered hither and yon. I realize someone put an old diaper on the littlest one - because they were playing she was the baby.
So, how do you find balance? How do you allow for free play and spontaneity and joy - while still implementing a gentle and life-giving structure in your home? I was processing all of this, and thinking ahead to summer. I am so happy I will have time with my girls and we will play outside and adventure together. But, I know that, for all of us to stay sane, we have to have a bit of a routine.
Maybe it starts with getting dressed. Making beds. Combing hair. Maybe it's a few morning tasks to check off on a list before they can play. Maybe it's lining up time slots for particular activities - and limiting the free for all to certain times of the day. Maybe it's the afternoon reading time that anchors the day.
Motherhood always seems to throw new challenges at us, doesn't it? In the next weeks, I am going to spend time pondering how to best provide a gentle rhythm for our summer - tethered by chores and jobs and planned adventures and books. I know my girls need clear expectations and a bit of flexible structure, or we will just default to chaos. And I don't like chaos. :)
How do you structure "off" days for your kiddos? What are the secrets to managing your home life well during seasons of greater freedom? Any thoughts?