2020 feels like the year where we all missed out on summer. With so many travel restrictions and cancelled plans, it may feel like your kids are missing out on normal summer experiences. And if this is a PCS year for you, the rapid changes and high stress levels are exhausting. The last thing you have time for is being a fun and creative parent, which just increases your parenting guilt after a PCS move.
August often feels like the season’s already over… not just because there are only a handful of weeks (or days!) before school starts again but because you may have just spent the first half of your summer months organizing and making a move to a new home in a new town filled with new faces and places you’ve never seen before… in the middle of a pandemic.
All of the stress of moving is hard on military kids, too. Virtual schools already took away a lot of their interactions with their friends, and now they have to move during the summer too! The lazy days they could have spent hanging out with friends or going on a fun vacation were spent packing and unpacking. So how can you ensure the season ends on a positive note? The trick, of course, is to get the kids excited about all the new things waiting for them outside their new front door. How do you do that? To salvage the remaining days of summer before school starts: Get into adventure mode!
Here are 7 ways to live it up during the last days of summer:
Take a family drive in every direction… and make it fun. When you’re new to an area, the first thing you need to figure out is where the nearest grocery stores, gas stations, shopping centers, parks, baseball fields, dance studios, movie theaters, restaurants… and schools are — especially if you don’t live on base/post. Whether or not you have a map or GPS to help you get around, if you keep your bearings (and your wits) about you, you can simply start at home and drive within a certain radius (mileage) or time-distance (15 minutes) of your neighborhood. You’ll get a feeling for the pace of traffic, the types of people that live in the community, and more. You can even play games by having the kids call out, “I see a gas station” or “I see a pizza place” as you go along because, of course, when you’re driving, you can’t always take in the full view yourself. Be sure to make pit stops here and there along the way so the kids don’t get too antsy sitting in the car the whole time. Bonus points if you find a playground to explore or a FroYo shop where you can pick up a treat!
Sign the kids up for local day camps. Sure, COVID put a damper on group activities, so you can’t just join the YMCA or stop by the public swimming pool like the kids did last year. But you may be surprised that some local recreation centers or Scouting programs are finding creative ways to do safe, small-group activities. Some locations offer sports, dance, and art camps. The ASYMCA hosts discounted daycamps for military kids. It’s a great way to keep the kids busy during the day while you are unpacking and setting up your new home. They will get to meet kids from the area, work off their pent-up energy, explore their creative side, and reclaim the summer days they may feel they’ve missed out on until now. Sure, it might be a bit of a splurge to get them involved in a camp, but if it gets them out of bed in the morning with a smile on their face and keeps you from having to come up with new activities to keep them busy for the remaining weeks before school, it can be a relief.
Take a mini-trip. Are the mountains nearby? The ocean? National parks? A cute historic town? A horse-riding trail? Find out what’s unique about the area you’ve moved to and take a day to relax and enjoy yourselves there — anywhere within a few minutes or hours of your new home. Focus on outdoor locations and activities, which are the least likely to be restricted during COVID. If you can stay overnight so it feels like a mini vacation, all the better. If you can only stay out for a few hours, make the most of that time “away” by turning off cell phones and opening your ears and eyes to what’s around you, including each other. Buy “souvenirs” at a dime store, try new foods at unfamiliar restaurants, snap photos along a nature walk, and talk with each other about the fun things you do so that you create a new memory that wipes away the awkwardness of a long car ride heading away from your old home, straight to your new one.
Play outside. When the “new” kids move into a neighborhood, the “old” kids are watching from their windows to see what everyone looks like. So getting the kids outside to play can help encourage a neighborly visit and help them make new friends. And when the old and new kids start talking to each other, they can help each other figure out what’s going on, on their own kid-like terms, talking about what’s cool, what fashions are in style, what local accents sound like, games the kids like to play, the type of music everyone listens to, what the school teachers are like, etc. The more (and sooner) your kids can learn about the other kids before school starts, the more comfortable they will be hanging around with them… and they will probably skip right past that awkward sitting-alone-at-the-lunch-table thing.
Eat outside. Is the weather fabulous where you are? Enjoy it! Plan a picnic for lunch and a cookout for dinner, or — if you have a back yard — create a full-fledged impromptu campout. You can even set up an outdoor movie theater by hanging a white sheet up between the trees or by hooking up a TV to a long extension cord. Cable TV provider not set up yet? No worries. Just head to the nearest library, used book store or thrift store to rummage around their DVDs. You’re sure to find something everyone will enjoy… at least for one evening. Of course, you will want to be ultra-careful about the noise level you create in your back yard. You don’t want to come across as the “obnoxious new people” in the neighborhood. But by being outside, your neighbors will notice that you are friendly, active, happy people… and they may even come over for a get-to-know-me chat.
Save the memories. Did you or your kids document the move by taking lots of photos of old friends, houses, and excursions at your former duty location? Have they taken just as many photos of the travel route and new house and community? Don’t let it all fade away. While memories are still clear about what-happened-where in your old home, be sure to capture everyone’s images and thoughts in an online scrapbook or a more tangible one made of paper, stickers and other crafty materials from a nearby hobby store. It’s an activity that can help keep little hands busy while you’re getting settled in your new home… and it will also give them something to share with friends old and new if anyone asks them, “What was your house like?” or similar other questions with answers that may be hard to describe.
Relax. Just relax. You’ve just packed up your life in one place and then unpacked it in another. That’s quite a feat— one you’ve probably done before and will do again. So just take some time for yourself, your kids, your family. Spend quiet, happy time together. Think of ways to decorate… but don’t decorate yet. Think about all the things you want to see and do in your new town… but don’t do them yet. Think about getting school supplies and clothes and the excitement of moving on to the next grade level at school… but don’t go out to buy your supplies or clothes yet. There is plenty of time for all of that… including after the school year actually begins. The idea of relaxing with each other is exactly that: sharing time with each other in a restful mode. That alone can make the hours of summer longer. You are able to sit back and breathe in every moment without feeling the “hurry” of having to move on to the next thing on your to-do list.
One last thing… make sure your kids have access to their old friends (i.e., peer-level support system) either through social media, apps that let them communicate from afar, or email… but don’t pressure them to stay in touch or get out there and make new friends. It will all come in due time. Summer is for fun. You can keep the smiles on your kids’ faces by just letting them be kids.