The Summer Bucket List: Making the Most of the Last Days of Summer

No time during the year flies as quickly as summertime.  It seems school lets out and we feel the freedom of summer for only a few short days before we are back to packing lunches and managing homework.  I am primarily a stay at home mom to our 2 girls, currently 11 and 8.  During the school year, we spend our afternoons and weekends running from one activity to the next, so when summer rolls around, we are ready for a break!  We typically enjoy lazy days at the pool and spend a good deal of our time at Deep Creek Lake with family and friends.  Soon enough however, the first day of school comes and I start to wonder where the summer went and what we did with our time.  Did we make the most of it or did we squander it?  Will I look back in 10 years when the girls are gone and wish I had spent the time differently, if I can even remember how we spent the time at all?  

As Emily, our eldest, started progressing through elementary school, I came to the realization that not only did each summer pass quickly, but the summers would soon, in the not so distant future, look different as well.  The girls would become more independent, and start making their own plans that sadly, wouldn’t always include me.  Realizing that both the summer days and years were moving much too quickly, I decided that I needed to become more intentional with how we spent this time together.  I also wanted to remember these carefree days without regret, both at the end of each summer and years down the road.   I didn’t want to just “coast” through another summer.  

I’ve always found “to do” lists helpful. Writing down everything I need/want to do helps calm me when I am overwhelmed, and also helps me structure and prioritize my time.  Quite simply, “to do” lists help me get stuff done!  (And few things feel as satisfying as checking another item off the list!)  And so, out of my desire to be more intentional with the girls, combined with my love of lists, the Summer Bucket List was born!  It started as a spontaneous idea – one in which I jotted ideas down on Post-It Notes.  I just happened to have a block of 3 different colors of Post-Its, so as I wrote down ideas for summer activities, I mixed the colors and started sticking them up on the wall next to my desk in the kitchen.  The girls loved the idea and started contributing their own ideas.  

As a family (dad included!), we had a great time that first summer picking and experiencing activities on the list.  As we “checked” another item off the list, we removed the corresponding Post It Note from the wall, so we could easily assess which activities were left.  When the first day of school came around that year, I didn’t feel the same angst I had in the past; I could look back at the picture I had taken of the original list and remember all the things we had done.  I was still sad that summertime was over, but I felt a certain satisfaction, knowing we had made the most of our time.    

Over the last 4 years, our Summer Bucket List has evolved.  While there are still plenty of fun activities on the list, the girls will tell you there are some new “work items” on the list as well.  Going to the pool with friends is coupled with setting a reading goal for the summer and sometimes earning a coupon book from the public library. This year we added reading a book together.  Learning Something New, like how to dive into the pool or riding a 2-wheeler, is always something we include on the list.  Purging and re-organizing the girls’ bedrooms is another new activity that we added this year.  I’m not sure it’s a “fan favorite”, but I think at the end of the day (and it did take the larger part of the day!), we all felt that together, we had accomplished something good.  Another one of our other favorite bucket list items is volunteering our time and helping someone in need.  This year, we are donating school supplies and helping to pack the backpacks that will go to the kids in our area who need them.  

Do we always accomplish every item on the list?  No.  And that’s ok.  The list is not meant to create stress.  Frankly, we usually end up with too many items on the list that we can realistically accomplish in our short summers, but I don’t want to dampen anyone’s spirit by not including all of their ideas.  Sometimes the things we don’t get to do carry over into the fall or the following summer.  Do we have some days when we don’t do anything on the list?  Of course! And we enjoy these days and don’t feel badly about not crossing something off the list every day.   

The point of the Summer Bucket List is to inspire me, as a mom, to be intentional with block of unscheduled time that summer naturally brings.   The Bible tells us in James 4:14 that life is short.  The New Living Translation puts it like this:  “Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here for a little while and then it’s gone.”  Wow.  That is a powerful reminder of how quickly our time on Earth passes by.  And here we are, just a few short weeks away from summer’s end.  If you feel like you’ve made the most of this summer, fantastic!   Keep going!  If you are feeling a bit discouraged, it isn’t too late to make a mini bucket list.  Gather your family, jot a few ideas down, and go for it!  Make the most of these last few weeks and enjoy the time together!