This summer was going to be different. This summer that you dreamed about in the middle of winter when you were late to school drop off because you were scraping ice off the car again. In May when you were scraping the cupboards to pack yet another lunch you were counting down to the carefree, schedule-less days of summer.

This was the summer you were going to find that perfect balance of structured opportunities and free play for your kids.

You were going to send them into the backyard with the confidence that boredom is good for them, and sip iced tea from the deck as they happily built a treehouse. You were going to pat yourself on the back for encouraging their creativity and they were most definitely not going to come back inside asking for a snack three minutes later.

You were going to take them to the pool to become proficient and confident swimmers. They definitely would not spend the entire time climbing on top of your head and there was no way there would be thunderstorms every time you tried to go. And definitely not every afternoon for two weeks in a row.

This summer, you would not look at the lifeguards and try to remember the last time you felt confident walking around in a two-piece bathing suit. You were going to rock your stretch marks and achieve body positivity once and for all.

This summer, you were going to spend your days playing in creeks and sketching pictures of the local flora and fauna. You were going to bike to the library every week and never, ever have to drag a screaming toddler out of storytime. 

This summer, your kids were going to eat cucumbers for a snack. And like it.

But I’m guessing this summer didn’t quite turn out how you expected.

Which, deep down, you knew. Because nothing since you first held your little one in your arms has gone exactly according to plan. Kids certainly have a way of teaching you how to become the parent they need—even if it wasn’t the parent you had planned on becoming.

I find myself learning and re-learning this lesson every summer. I didn’t exactly plan on spending my days flailing between unloading the dishwasher, negotiating sibling disagreements, and squeezing in all the doctor and dentist appointments we didn’t have time for during the school year. 

Every year, I think I have lowered my expectations to some reasonable goals—lots of reading time, lots of outdoor time, and lots of eating healthy fruit. But in the back of my head, I can’t let go of the image of my ideal summer: eating dinner on the deck every night, reading books on a blanket in our backyard, and camping under the stars.

And every summer, I bite back disappointment when it turns out that dinner is fast food picked up on the way home from a T-ball game, my kids would rather squirt each other with water guns than listen to me read, and with the baby still not sleeping through the night the tent stays tucked away in our closet. 

I probably spent more time this summer coaching my kids on how not to leave their Popsicle sticks in the backyard than they did eating vegetables. And we probably spent way more time learning how to work through one brother wanting to go to the park and one brother wanting to go to the carousel than we did at either of those places. But apparently, those are the lessons they needed to learn this summer.

I might not be the cool, creative, and organized mom I dreamed about becoming, I  know that I am the mom my kids need.

So, maybe this summer didn’t turn out exactly how we pictured. Maybe more of our summer bucket lists will have to roll over to next year than we hoped. But rest assured, as the kids grow up, it’ll still be that summer.

That summer where they only got out of their pajamas to put on swimsuits and do the slip ‘n slide.

That summer where they collected every single one of the kids’ meal toys.

That summer where they biked up and down the block knowing they were the kings and queens of their street.

That summer where they watched way too much TV and learned every single word to the songs in The Lion King, Moana and Beauty and the Beast.

That summer where mom tried to make them eat cucumbers. And like them.

Because our kids didn’t need the perfect summer to make the perfect memories.

Somehow, kids have a way of creating exactly the summer they need—even if it wasn’t the summer you had planned on.

You may also like:

This Summer, Let’s Do it All Wrong

The Summer I Let My Mothering Anxieties Go

10 Ways to Give Your Kid a 1970s Summer

Jackie Semmens

Jackie Semmens is a writer by nature and a mother by nature. She has two boys and is willing to chase them all over the hills of Montana in order to get them to nap.