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A summer bucket list for college families

Connie Lissner

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It’s hard to believe that college students are already heading home for summer break. It feels like just yesterday we were dropping them off for their first days of kindergarten — I mean college.

Blink and you’ll miss it, right?

When my oldest came home for summer break after his freshman year one thought ran through my head every day: What if this is the last summer that we're all together?  Suddenly, I only had three months and there was so much we needed to do together! I had places to take him, things to teach him, things to learn about him!

Although thinking that way was anxiety producing, it did force me to plan ahead.

Every summer break since that first one I've created a “Summer To Do” list for the family to try to make the most of our limited time together. Some activities involve getting tickets in advance and reminding the kids every day that we have plans while others are just there for the rare afternoon when we're all in the same place at the same time and looking for something to do.

If you haven’t made your Summer Family Bucket List yet, you should. Even if you only pick a couple things to do as a family (we certainly do not get through our entire list), it might lead to amazing memories that last long after everyone has gone.

The Logistics:

  1. Don’t plan anything for the first couple of weeks. You’ll want to spend a lot of time with your kids when they first get back — hearing stories, feeding them, staring at them when they aren’t looking — but they'll have other ideas (and I guarantee after a week or so with this “new” person you might want some distance, too.) Once you adjust to the new rhythms of the family, you can add in some together time. If you start pushing your agenda too early, they will push back. Move slowly.
  1. Get everyone involved. My mistake the first summer was that I added things that I wanted to do without really thinking about everyone else. Ask the whole family for their ideas — some of them might surprise you. Spikeball, anyone?
  1. Put it all on a big calendar. Add each family member’s schedule including the kids’ work, workouts, confirmed outings with friends, etc. — this way you'll know about any conflicts. (I say "confirmed" because in the minds of my boys they always have plans).

A few ideas to get you started.

1. Travel together.

Even if it’s just for a couple of days and preferably with no cell service — but that may be wishful thinking.

2. Teach your student a domestic skill.

Something you meant to do before he or she left for school but didn’t get around to, like how to make your mother’s banana bread or how to take care of a houseplant or tend a garden.

3. Take a class where you all learn a new skill.

My oldest and I have taken a cooking class, fencing lessons and paddle ball lessons.

4. Enter a contest or race.

My husband wants to run a Spartan race (a muddy obstacle course) this summer with our boys. I'd like to enter a citywide scavenger hunt.

If necessary, scrap the list and savor the spontaneous moments of togetherness. They don’t happen as often for us any more, but when they do they're magical.

5. Get tickets for a play, comedy club, dance performance or sporting event.

You do not have to go to a professional venue, though — choose a play at a local university, watch a minor league baseball game, or go to open mic night at the comedy club. A night out doesn’t need to break the bank.

6. Volunteer together.

Find a local soup kitchen, Habitat for Humanity site, charity walk, community garden, whatever is important to your family. Summer music, film and arts festivals often rely on volunteer ushers — hand out programs and see the show for free.

7. Host a family game night with other families.

Sometimes it’s easier to convince your kids to spend time with you if their friends are involved. If board games aren’t your thing, set up a badminton net, corn hole game or ladder golf in your yard and make it a potluck.

8. Make a list of restaurants.

By theme — i.e., Thai restaurants, ice cream parlors, pizza places — and check them out over the course of the summer. Find the best one on the list.

9. Go axe throwing.

Seriously, it’s a thing. Find any new activity from Escape Rooms to indoor skydiving.

10. Watch a scary movie outside.

Borrow a movie projector. Even better, go to a drive-in theatre.

11. Host a movie or series marathon.

This also is easier if their friends are involved. My husband and I binge watched the series Stranger Things with our boys and their friends. We even watched a couple episodes outside one night with a projector.

12. Get nostalgic.

Take your kids back to the museum, aquarium or zoo they loved as kids. Take lots of pictures.

13. Break a world record.

This is still aspirational for my family. Maybe this will be the summer we do it. I'm not going to say what record we're aiming for because I don't want you to steal our idea.

14. Cook a meal together.

At least once a month, preferably once a week. Print out the recipe with photos of the meal you made together and add them to a cookbook for your kids when they move out.

15. Soak up the sunshine.

Go for a bike ride, a hike, a day at the beach. Simple is good.

If necessary, scrap the list and savor the spontaneous moments of togetherness. They don’t happen as often for us any more, but when they do they're magical.


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Connie Lissner is a writer, lawyer, wife and more importantly, the mother of two sons — one in college and the other a recent graduate. She was once told that a child’s job is to constantly push a parent’s limits and her boys do their job very well. She, in turn, is trying to do her job of not totally screwing them up. She navigates the slippery slope of motherhood one mistake at a time. Connie’s parenting failures have been featured on The Huffington Post, Yahoo Finance, Grown and Flown, Scary Mommy, LifeAfter50, Club Mid, BlogHer and in the book, Not Your Mother’s Book…on Parenting.
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