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At the start of the summer, I realized that my 3.5-year-old will remember this summer.
He’ll remember the fun things we did. But as a work-at-home mom, he’ll also remember how much I worked.
It was a new pressure I hadn’t felt before as a mom. I wanted to make it fun. But I’m also self-employed so spending tons of money wasn’t a great idea. And more than ever, I was conscious of how much I worked and how stressed I allowed it to make me.
So here’s a look at how we had tons of fun this summer without spending loads of money.
Making This Summer Memorable Without Stress or Tons of Money
With a newfound pressure to make the summer fun, I set out to entertain my boys without spending tons of money. The outdoors were a natural fit, but we shook it up how we explored the outdoors. Here’s what we did this summer to make it memorable.
1. We Spent Afternoons Playing in Water
This summer, we spent every late afternoon after the baby woke up at “The Resort” (aka, the baby pool and water table in our backyard). It became like a routine, one that has been hard to shake even now that the weather is somewhat chilly for the activity.
Listening to the boys giggle as they splashed away and grew their friendship was the sweetest thing. I treated myself with sparkling water and audiobooks while I served as a lifeguard so that it also aided in stress relief after the workday.
2. We Maximized Our Zoo Membership
Last fall we purchased a zoo membership and it’s been worth every penny. At just over $100, we only have to go a couple of times to make it pay off. I tried to make it a monthly activity so that it was still new and exciting each time.
And as the summer wore on, we tried to visit habitats during feeding time or some of the special activities to keep things fresh. Of course, packing unique snacks we rarely eat at home made it special too.
My heart warmed as I watched my nearly 4-year-old share raisins from his trail mix with the 15-month-old. Raisins are his favorite, but it was the only part of the trail mix the baby could eat. It was selfless and helped me realize that those quiet zoo moments are so important.
3. We Visited All the Local Parks
We spent about an hour per day at our local parks. Now, we’re blessed to live within a half mile of two parks. We have a third park that is only a mile away. So I get to rollerblade for exercise and then the boys get to visit different parks.
But any chance we got to go to other parks, we took that opportunity too. When we went on errands somewhere, I’d look for the best parks in that area. It was fun and kept everything new and exciting.
4. We Biked Tons
I can’t count the miles we logged on his new bike with training wheels, but I know it was in the hundreds. Biking with training wheels was new for my big kid this spring. The newness did wear off by mid-summer, but that didn’t stop us from logging the miles and having a great time. He got so fast that it became quite the workout for me to keep up with him with the baby in the stroller.
5. We Played Games
After dozens of hands of Paw Patrol Uno, I learned every character’s name and could tell you what number they represent in the game (Chase is #1).
Those long naps that young toddlers take can feel like a prison for bigger kids. So when we were just home waiting for the baby to wake up to go on another adventure, we played games. And it’s fun to be able to do this with my big kid now that he’s old enough.
6. We Took Monthly Trips to the Library
Fresh books kept everyone entertained and learning this summer. And it was a good way to get out of the house on rainy days. The boys loved playing with the blocks table and magnetic letter wall at our local library.
Having new books was also helpful to get some work done. My big kid would skim books quietly while I got stuff done, either around the house or for my clients.
7. Took a Random Trip to Gatlinburg
We got a random opportunity to go to Gatlinburg. It was one of those where I learned of it on a Friday and was in the van headed there with the boys on Sunday. It was spontaneous, which I’m not really good at. But we had a blast and I know we made memories that will last a lifetime, even if it did have a surprising volume of meltdowns due to more challenging sleep patterns.
Saying No to New Projects
The most important element of making this summer fun for my boys was saying no to new projects. Historically, I’ve been bad at this. It’s unnerving to say no when you don’t know what might happen with one of your largest clients. Income is not steady when you freelance, but time with my boys was simply more important.
I’ve gotten better at saying no and every day I encourage myself to do it more often. Focusing on profitability has helped me find steady, loyal clients I can rely on so I don’t need the surprise project here or there that comes my way. It’s taken several years, but I’m so glad to have arrived at this point in my freelance career.
Goodbye (and Thank You) to Summer 2022
Now my son is returning to preschool for his second year and it’s bittersweet. Those long summer days are waning and a few days a week the house will be a little quieter.
In the meantime, I’m incredibly grateful for the time we’ve had and the ability to work from home to have greater flexibility to fill the summers with fun memories and quality time. It’s a balancing act, but worth every moment.