At the time of this writing, we are about three weeks into the mandated quarantine and social distancing. And I would like to take this opportunity to tell you that, in a brave and unprecedented move, I am officially declaring the school year over.
Even if it’s mid-May and your school year doesn’t typically end until Memorial Day, I’m telling you, it’s fine. In fact, where I live, school drags on until the end of June, and I still think we’re pretty much finished. My kids can learn geometry and all the ins and outs of the American Revolution next fall.
What authority do I have to cut the school year short? Well, I have been a substitute teacher for almost a month now. In that time, I’ve also taken on the roles of principal, school superintendent, guidance counselor, janitor, and cafeteria worker. So I believe that gives me some liberties with the calendar. Not to mention the fact that, when I’m not secretly Googling the definitions of supplementary and complementary angles in an effort to teach fourth-grade math, I’m a mother. I have a hunch about what’s best for my kids.
Here’s the problem, though, folks. Summer is going to be a lot more of the same, minus the 1 p.m. sob session over persuasive-essay writing. None of us can predict the future, but it’s likely that we’ll still be hanging out at home more than usual. If you are a parent, you have more unstructured hours to fill for your kids. If you are a grandparent or a newlywed or a single person living alone, you have your own challenges, starting with toilet paper rations and ending with loneliness or an inability to put on pants with buttons anymore.
But there is some good news. We are already doing so many things well! I may have made a ton of mistakes lately. I let my older children, ages 7 and 10, start watching Coming to America, because I sort of forgot that the film was rated R and had nudity in the beginning. (Whoops; we quickly turned it off.) I’ve also snapped at my husband, and I cracked a craft beer before 5 p.m. several days in a row. However, I’ve consistently managed to feed five people three meals a day and have shown kindness to neighbors. Many of us have worshipped with our churches via screens, and it has been surprisingly sweet. Some intrepid souls have even learned to cut hair.
So we may not be taking a summer vacation just yet. I’m not even sure my daughter will be able to go to sleepaway camp—though, I’m not gonna lie, that tops the prayer list these days. Still, I will keep going and continue to do what I can to make my home a place full of warmth, love, and laughter. You can too.
The first step is to cut yourself some slack. Lower the bar. I have let the housekeeping go, despite the now-comical fact that I exclaimed to my husband at the start of this ordeal: “We will finally have time to wash the windows!” Y’all, we have not washed those windows—or even folded our laundry from about three days ago. I haven’t encouraged my children to keep up daily journals or taught anyone a new instrument. I am digging through memories of how I spent my childhood summers in the 1980s and remembering that I managed—that we all managed—with nothing more than a bicycle, episodes of Charles in Charge, and fistfuls of Apple Jacks cereal. We can do it again.
I pray that this summer brings relief and healing and many, many hugs to make up for all the ones we missed. If it does, these simple suggestions will still apply. But if we do remain stuck at home, perhaps the following ideas can brighten your days.
Savor the Season
Cook with Fresh Ingredients
When stocking up for this quarantine, you likely bought beans, so you made your fair share of bean dip, bean soup, and bean tacos. Thank goodness for late-spring and early-summer produce to change things up. Shop local farmers’ markets, if you can, and do only the minimum cooking required. After all, you’ve been making meal after meal. Now is the time to do less: Serve corn on the cob with butter; sliced peaches over vanilla ice cream; and freshly shelled peas, boiled in a flash.
Don’t Skimp on Dessert
Note: We did not say to pick the most complicated recipe you can find for a stay-at-home challenge. Keep it easy. This is a gift to yourself and your family for making it through yet another day. Celebrate small things—like finishing a book or puzzle, mailing a real birthday card to an old friend, or washing your hair.
These individual Blueberry-Orange-Ginger Cobblers are perfect for after dinner (or pre dinner—no judgement).
Antonis Achilleos; Prop Styling: Kathleen Varner; Food Styling: Torie Cox
Make a Big Batch of Strawberry Tea
The days are long. Sometimes you need a little pick-me-up in the middle. Sweet strawberries are everywhere right now, and the ingredients list for this Strawberry-Mint Tea recipe is blissfully short. You might have mint in the garden, and we bet you bought sparkling water in bulk back in March. Everyone—especially kids—will appreciate a pink and bubbly drink on a warm, sunny afternoon.
Alison Miksch; Food Styling: Torie Cox; Prop Styling: Ginny Branch
Arrange a Walking Happy Hour
Parties are a no-no, and mingling is out. But if you stay 6 feet away and talk loudly—every Southerner can do that—you can safely enjoy a drink and a friend. Keep it to two people, find an empty walking trail, put a beverage in a thermos, and catch up.
Plan a “Can You Grill It?” Night
Burgers, of course. Chicken breasts, sure. But what about an ice-cream sandwich or bananas for a smoky banana split? We suggest starting with an out-of-the-box (but still reasonable) main dish: grilled pizza, perhaps, with charred romaine for a nice side salad. Then let family members of all ages think up their own ingredients for grilling.
Greg Dupree; Prop Styling: Ginny Branch; Food Styling: Anna Hampton
Enjoy Old-School Fun
Bring back a few of your childhood pastimes
Let Your Kids Duke It Out
Are your children getting along in new and mind-bogglingly polite ways? Or are they ready to smack each other in the head? Either way, we suggest tetherball—yes, that retro playground favorite. You can order it online. It doesn’t take up much space, and it’s a perfect opportunity for some friendly competition (and head smacking). Other games that might feel new again: hopscotch, croquet, and jumping through a sprinkler to cool off.
Hold a State-Fair Day
It’s time to eat your funnel cakes (sweet, thin pancake batter drizzled into hot oil through a funnel works well) and corn dogs (buy frozen ones) in your yard. Bonus points if you set up a ring toss with all of the empty wine bottles you’ve collected over the past few months.
Learn a New Dance Under the Stars
You’ve been meaning to figure out how to Texas two-step or shag in your free time. Well, now you have it. Hit the patio after dinner, and prop up your tablet for an online tutorial. (Or call an old friend who can talk you through it.)
Stage a Backyard Movie Night
Maybe this has been on your to-do list for a while—hey, we’ve probably mentioned it in summers past—but other plans have always gotten in the way. We’ve all been watching a ton of television lately. At the very least, let’s take it outside. If you have a projector, you’re all set. If not, let the kids cuddle in sleeping bags in a tent and watch a movie on a tablet.
Give Yourself a Break
Be kind to yourself and others
Check On Your Neighbors—Again
Many of us were Johnny-on-the-spot with this in the beginning, buying groceries for elderly neighbors and calling those who live alone. But maybe we’ve forgotten or slacked off as the weeks have dragged on. Slip a card or a sweet note in someone’s mailbox when you’re out for an evening walk, or drop lunch or dinner on their doorstep.
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Heather Chadduck Hillegas
Take More Naps
We’ve all been trying to stick to a schedule, but now that school is out (because I said so), we can allow ourselves to indulge in a midday nap, preferably on a screened porch or hammock. So what if that pushes bedtime back by an hour or two? The days are longer. Let the kids play a round of flashlight tag, go night swimming, or catch lightning bugs like you did back in the day.
Plant Reblooming Daylilies
These bold, showstopping flowers are a cinch for even the most timid gardener, and certain selections bloom multiple times throughout the summer. They are our favorite pass-along plants because they are just so easy to grow—and a breeze to divide and share with your friends.
GAP Photos/Friedrich Strauss
Rethink Reading Time
You know how all of those celebrities—even Dolly Parton, bless her—began reading children’s books over social media during this crisis? Evidence shows that reading aloud to kids (even older ones) improves their vocabularies and their comprehension skills. Pick one of your favorites to share, and if bedtime seems too fraught and exhausting, read a little over breakfast or, ahem, before your daily family nap time.
Institute Summer Fridays in Your“Office”
When you are working from home, it’s easy to be all business all the time. The past several weeks have been a grind, trying to fit in your own tasks in the midst of homeschooling. This summer, shut everything down early on Fridays, if you can. Go for a run or a walk. Watch an afternoon movie. Meet your spouse for a late lunch in a room where your children are not. Escape for a bit.
Start New Traditions
Plan for get-togethers and adventures (at last!)
Organize Your First Family Olympics
In lieu of the real Summer Games, you can have a DIY competition with challenges (cartwheels, jump rope, disk toss, or free throw shooting!) and medals. Extra-creative families can invent new countries with silly, original national anthems. If that sounds like too much work, you can buy a slackline and let the kids make their own obstacle courses instead.
Celebrate Milestones We’ve Missed
Spring was full of recitals, graduations, and engagement parties that were canceled or went unheralded. While it may be the end of summer before we can gather, our first order of business should be to fete all the people who missed out on celebrating their big days. If it’s still not safe for you to get together, drop off lunch for a new mom or a cake for a friend with a birthday.
Greg DuPree; Prop Styling: Mindi Shapiro Levine; Food Styling: Torie Cox
Throw a Picnic on the Porch
It’s only going to get hotter in the coming months. Eat outside as often as you can. It means easier cleanup, for one thing, and if you happen to live close enough to your neighbors that you can hear them in their backyard, maybe you can coordinate dinnertime and enjoy each other’s company from afar.
Hector Manuel Sanchez; Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller
Schedule a Future Vacation
Goodness knows that we all deserve one, and many towns and beaches are going to need us to visit too. Dream of where you’ll go when you’re able, and let the kids have a role in researching and planning—from hotels to sights to restaurants. Give yourselves something great to look forward to down the road.