How I Managed Summer Planning as a Single Mom


Dear friends,

I have a confession to make. I hate planning.

Did you know this about me? I have an irrational fear of being pinned down by plans, while at the same time, fear the looming abyss of unscheduled time. One may, fittingly, wonder how it is that I’ve managed to be married twice, while being entirely reluctant to make plans. I wonder the same thing. My reluctance to plan is a no-win situation, and many times I have felt like I was chasing fun, and not having the profound and memorable experiences I want to have. I am also, occasionally, profoundly lazy, and don’t want to put in the effort comprehensive planning demands. I am trying to not pass on my avoidance of planning to my daughter. I want her to know the glorious value of unscheduled time, because I believe that childhood boredom fosters growth of creativity and independence. I also want her to experience more than hastily cobbled together last minute plans. Planning ahead makes me nervous, but this spring, I was determined to find the best way to make the most of my summer.

My friend, Annie Cooper, posted something on Facebook that resonated with me profoundly. She said, more or less, that she loves seeing the photos people post of their fun experiences, but that she has no idea how to make those fun experiences happen in her own life.

I couldn’t agree more. I had to wonder if my planning phobia was holding me back from experiencing all the fun a Vermont summer has to offer.

Every day on Facebook, I like photos of day trips to Granby Zoo, Jay Peak Pump House, and visits to the Montshire Museum. I scroll though photos of camping adventures, overnight trips to the beach, family kayaking excursions, picnics at Shelburne Farms, and scenes from backyard camping. I see my friends and acquaintances in boats on the lake, hiking mountains, geocaching, and apparently, having the times of their lives. I want to do this! I want to do all of this!

In the past, I have had to sift through layers of conflicting emotions until I can access the happiness I genuinely feel (primarily) for my active and well-occupied Facebook friends. To be honest though, I am no where near perfect and I do have other feelings too, although I try hard to focus on how grateful I am for all I have in my own life. I am jealous that many of my friends have partners with whom they share the costs, preparation, driving, planning logistics, and most importantly, the fun and joy of summer activities. I am annoyed that none of my close friends has had the good sense to win the lottery, buy a little boat, and invite me and my sprout out for a cruise. We make a pretty lousy crew, but we love the water! Like most parents, and certainly all single moms, I am exhausted, and overwhelmed by the unrelenting demands of parenting. How can I find time to plan fun activities? Isn’t the nature of “fun” contradicted by the very act of planning it? How can I even find out what fun activities I should attempt? Fun can be intimidating to me. And “fun” that requires a lot of work, had better be a lot of fun.

The other dominant emotion I feel, when I look at your amazing lives, as curated through my Facebook feed, is an overwhelming sense of “how did they know how to make that activity happen?” That feeling, the curiosity, wonder and utter bewilderment, is what I got from Annie’s post. Then, in a fairly typical and all too common moment of building myself up, I quickly reviewed some of the things I consider to be my major life accomplishments. Not the time I got an A on that English paper, but the times when, despite panic, terror, depression, and non-specific challenges (non-specific difficulty being an adult?), I survived. Thrived, even. I solely raised an infant who refused to sleep for more than two hours in a row until I sleep trained her at seven and and half months. I lived in a Bolivian village so remote that I had to hike for hours to get to a road, and got my drinking water out of a pit. I have traveled alone, in many different countries. I once taught sex-ed to fifth and sixth graders. I am a full time single mom. I CAN PLAN FUN SUMMER ACTIVITIES! Even if they are new activities to me! I can plan my summer in advance, and still have time for spontaneous fun! I can, and will have fun!

And I did!

The first thing I did, about a month before my daughter got out of preschool, was to make a budget to figure out what I could spend on summer fun.

Then, I determined what I most wanted to do, and what would fit into my budget. I settled on visiting my family in Nantucket, going camping with friends, our annual trip to Storyland/New Hampshire, and our annual trip to York, Maine. Plus lots of local parades, beach days, kayaking, hiking, teaching my kid to fish, and canning every fresh fruit and veggie in sight. My definition of a perfect summer. In order to achieve my planned summer of fun, I had to overcome my fear of planning- of committing financially – and then suffering anxiety that one or both of us would get sick and be unable to travel. I had to look past my terror of bridges, and ferries, only to discover that my then four year old thought we would be traveling by fairy, and she was extremely tense when informed that no, we weren’t traveling by fairy, and that the captain wasn’t even a fairy.

And then we did it!

Camping... with my sprout!

Kayaking with friends

Girls examining a jellyfish in York, Maine

Loving the deer at the York Zoo

Visiting the Burlington Farmers Market

Ms. Butterfly at Storyland

Feeding snapping turtles in Nantucket with Aunt Carrie

Beach time in Nantucket

Butterfly tent at the Champlain Valley Fair

We had a marvelous summer, and I learned that planning and preparation can result in a much greater opportunity for fun. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a planning convert yet, but I’ve already started making Thanksgiving plans with my family, and it’s not even November!


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