The summer, warm and healing, arrived without fanfare and established a comfortable presence without drama or angst or the always striving that pulses through my veins. Like usual, I was planning to take summer by storm, muscle my household into order, and make the most of every day with some very specific expectations. I didn’t quite expect the peace. I certainly wasn’t looking for it. I was on a road with a heavy load over my shoulder — the responsibility to mother six little people and fill them with whatever good things I could scrape up from the bottom of my own barrel. Summer came, and I don’t know how it circumvented my tight grip on the possibilities for these months, but I found myself seated in a collapsible camp chair in the shade of a big tree, watching my children climb and run, play and discover without me for hours on end — my burden laid down and peace sinking in. We did a lot of nothing that was delightfully everything; hours in open spaces playing, jumping, running, in neon park shirts so mama could spy them from a distance while nursing a chunky love of a baby.
Bright and mild June days set the stage for a summer full of connection, drawing deep from a well of peace, and countless tiny realizations that amount to a total awakening within my heart to a pace and a life that I would never have chosen off the shelf, but embrace with all my heart now that I understand. Some things don’t make sense until you’re holding them. Babies. Ideas. Life-callings. Wholeness that I never thought I would experience quite like this. Every time I think I’m at a whole place, I discover yet another layer of sweetness that comes from trusting God with every detail and every day, relaxing into the reality that so many things I want to control are ultimately up to Him and not me.
We spent many days out of the house. I have always been the stay-in type, probably because I made outings more complicated than they needed to be, and also because many small children of a certain age are quite a challenge to herd in the same direction. I developed a system that involves a kit of items that stayed in the car all summer: 2 strollers, a collapsible wagon, 5 collapsible camp chairs, and a zip-up beach blanket. Every time we went to the park, I would unfurl the above campsite, invite friends to join, and play, chat, and eat for sometimes 4 or 5 hours on a given day. It was comfortable, easy, restful. The mobile kids wore their neon park shirts, and all I had to do was count the dots around the park every few minutes and dish out the food when they came around with grumbling tummies. The other part of our system relied on a packing cube that I refilled daily with diapers, clothes for the baby, and sunscreen, and a large packed lunch with water for everyone that could last us all day if we wanted it to.
We did nature walks in various places — intentionally taking notice of plants, wildlife, insects and other natural things, and the kids sketched things on drawing pads with colored pencils. We visited the library a dozen different times and picked up whatever books interested them, and they read on everything from soccer to crochet to adventurous classics. In the hottest months, we went to splash parks and wading pools in the area, and the kids would come home and make projects from the recycling bin, draw, and play. My two older boys caught the sewing bug from their oldest sister and spent hours stitching different haphazardly cut out fabric pieces together to make bags, and stuffed animals, and other randomness. Both are eager to start using a sewing machine, which I won’t allow them to do until they have achieved a level of mastery with hand-sewing that warrants such a promotion. That yet-out-of-reach reality keeps them both experimenting, tediously stitching, and gaining skills that are not typical of boys these days but make me smile.
It wasn’t until part way through the summer I realized I set everything else down to be fully present with the kids. It wasn’t on-purpose, but more of a grace that landed on me. I didn’t write. I didn’t take pictures with my big camera. I didn’t jam our schedule full of urgent things that weren’t important. Instead, I sat still at the parks and pools while they played, watching, listening, pondering, and privately processing the transition into this new season of having six kids in my care. I am in love with them. They are the sweetest, dearest children I can imagine knowing. My desire to be faithful to this mothering task has grown as my heart swells with love for each of them, and I recognize that there are many, many things that threaten to clutter the precious years we have together.
With the arrival of every new baby, I have learned that our family enters a new season that is full of unexpected turns and surprises — some unexpectedly challenging, and some unexpectedly wonderful. It is like we, as a family, are all new again. As a mother, I am all new again.
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
Components of my Summer Survival Kit
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Collapsible Camp Chairs – I kept 5 of these in my vehicle at all times throughout last summer so I would have chairs for our family or for friends who stopped in to join us at the park. If you set up a camp site in the middle of a park, its easy to stay there all day! I think these chairs may be cheaper at a sporting goods store.
Collapsible Wagon – We bought our collapsible wagon from Costco years ago and I use it daily during the summer, especially on days when we’re headed off to a wading pool or splash park so I don’t have to carry all items + baby + lunch from the car to the set-up site. The wagon makes it a one-trip-job.
Stroller and/or travel Pack n Play – This summer I’ll be using the stroller, but I do have a travel-size pack n play that is easy to transport (fits in my collapsible wagon!) and I used last summer when my youngest was only a few months old. It was nice to have him contained (and able to nap) while the other kids played.
Beach Blanket – Our beach blanket zips up and was originally a gift from my mother-in-law. It has seen years of use now, but still holds up well. It isn’t this brand (not sure what brand it is!) but this is similar.
Water Bottles – This is the brand and style of water bottle I have been using for myself and I love it, although I did ditch the strainer piece shortly after I got it. I have a purple one. My kids use whatever multi-pack Costco has most recently carried.
Packing Cube – I have just one packing cube right now, that was a gift from a friend over 5 years ago, but I love its versatility and will be picking up a few more for this summer. I use it as the daily-refillable diaper container so we always have what we need when we’re out and about. I usually put extra clothes in for baby as well.
Utility Bag – These are my favorite things. I have two (different colors) and I have one as the designated lunch bag and one as the designated swimming bag. So convenient and easy to transport and get stuff in and out of it all day while we’re out. These bags are the only things I bring in daily to clear out and re-fill. All our other park-day gear stays in the car.
Fitpacker Containers – I use these containers to pack lunch items in. To me, they are more flexible than tupperware, and are more cost effective quantity-to-cost. If I buy grapes at Costco, I’ll wash and store grapes in 3-4 of these containers so they’re easy to grab when I’m throwing a lunch together in the morning. I do this with lots of things: cheese, nuts, apple slices, carrot slices, etc. They do have bento-style boxes, but for our large family, I like the single compartment and keeping each lunch item in one box.
Park Shirts for Kids – Any color park shirt will do, but the idea is to put all kids in the same color so its easy to spot them from a distance. We’ve had this neon yellow for several years, and I finally retired them and bough new orange ones for this summer in each size we need for our family. I keep them in the car at all times, and wash minimally (they get filthy), but the kids wear them over their other clothes. They put them on when we arrive at a park and take them off when we leave, and I bring them in just a few times a summer to wash when I can’t stand it any longer. Following this system keeps them from getting lost in the laundry abyss.
Sun Hat – I’m a fair-skinned gal, so I picked up one of these recently to keep the sun off my face when we are at a location that doesn’t have a shady spot available.
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Emily Sue Allen is the founder of Kindred Mom. She lives with her husband and six kids in Seattle, Washington. She is a contemplative, creative soul who celebrates the beauty of a humble, handmade life and deeply values the power of encouragement. She blogs at www.lightandloveliness.com, and shares bits of her life on Instagram.