I love me some lists! My friends and family joke that I have a list of my lists. I have long-term lists- like my lists of gratitudes, lists of goals by my next birthday, list of trails I want to run on, list of vacations I want to go on, lists of books to read, lists of professional tasks to accomplish each season, lists of movies, TV shows, and restaurants I hope to try, and on and on. Then there are my short-term lists: my lists of daily priorities, lists of to-do’s at work, lists of to-do’s for home, lists of groceries we need, lists of phone calls to make, etc, etc.
The list I haven’t looked at much recently is my Summer 2023 Ideas List. That I’ve not been frequently referencing this list marks some real personal-growth that’s occurred recently.
At last count, on my Summer Ideas List, there were 60 items of fun activities I could potentially do with my family this summer while we’re at home in Ann Arbor. 60. Six-Zero. Never mind that I work full-time, we’re traveling outside of Ann Arbor for 3 weeks this summer, and it is often a struggle to get my kids out the door… so it is a literal impossibility that I would ever have been able to check-off those 60 items off my list.
But did those realities deter me from making my list at the start of June? Absolutely not. I scoured local Facebook groups for ideas, asked friends for recommendations, and reviewed unfinished-lists from bygone summers past.
What is different- and exciting- about how I’m using my Summer 2023 ideas list this year is that my list has been a source of potential joy and possibility. It is not a task-master or a stressor. Often, in the past, I’ve gotten caught up in the sense that my lists of “could-do’s” are actually “must-do’s.” I’ve given into the urge to squeeze as many possible activities into any and every free moment so that we would “maximize” our fun. And, of course, those attempts have inevitably led to family-stress, cranky kids, and a disappointed/frustrated me.
This summer, the list exists- but it’s mostly in the back of my mind (and a rarely-opened google-doc). When we have a free moment, my kids often just want to play (or text) with a friend or go splash around at our neighborhood pool. Instead of pressuring them to get out of the house and seize the day, I’m meeting them where they’re at, and taking our pace much slower than I typically would.
We *have* occasionally gone on some new adventures: I can now say I’ve been to my first American Kennel Club Dog Show; we’ve visited our favorite waterpark and earned many points playing our library’s summer game. But I’m guessing this will not be the summer we go on a 65-ft-high-canopy-walk, spend a day antiquing, or make it out to Belle Isle. And that’s ok.
Studies have shown that the anticipation of vacation and travel- the planning and envisioning- are a key part of what makes those activities so pleasurable. Some studies have even found that travelers experience their highest levels of happiness in the lead-up prior to the trip itself.
I think my Summer Ideas List has been working like this for me this year. I experienced a great deal of pleasure imagining myself discovering new-to-me beaches and woods, picturing my kids pushing themselves with novel challenges, and envisioning the sense of satisfaction we’d have after a family-volunteer-project. So, even if we end up doing only a handful of items on our Summer Ideas List, I’m satisfied. And taking the days as they come, while following my family’s more-chill-pace, is allowing me to savor the sweetness of this less-scheduled/less-frenetic season.
As we move into the final month of summer, I hope we can all find that balance of anticipating future joy while simultaneously slowing down enough to appreciate the goodness of the actual present moment.