Fireflies in a jar in a child's tree fort

Our Summer Bucket List is About More than Summer

When I opened the car door yesterday, I was greeted by a blast of hot air that felt like opening an oven. I turned the key and the car dashboard informed me with bright red numbers it was a stifling 95 degrees outside this afternoon. After an unseasonably cold and rainy spring, summer has finally, undoubtedly arrived here. With our summer bucket list in hand, my family is ready to swan dive into summer and start crossing items off of our list.

We drafted the summer bucket list one a dreary day a few weeks ago. It seemed like a constructive alternative to tracing the rivulets of rain on the just-cleaned glass door to the patio full of puddles. We knew summer had to come eventually, and we took our preparation seriously.

Each member of the family took turns adding favorite warm-weather activities to the summer bucket list. The usual suspects made an appearance, including:

  • getting ice cream,
  • an outing to the farmer’s market,
  • running through the sprinkler,
  • attending an outdoor concert at our local park,
  • a trip to the water park,
  • having a picnic,
  • going to a baseball game,
  • watching fireworks light up the night sky, and
  • a night spent oohing and awing over magical fireflies.

These are our summer stalwarts, the activities that never fail to delight and the can’t miss parts of summer. They take, at most, a few hours to do, but the memories created in the process sustain us through long winters and soggy springs, and beyond. As a mother, they are often what flash in my mind when I marvel at how tall my daughter looks walking across the high school stage at a school event, or when she talks about her upcoming drivers’ license test.

Over time, new activities have crept onto the list, the ones that come with her getting older. Some come close to home, like helping her master a few more basic dishes in her culinary repertoire so she can feed herself well at college. Others are farther afield, including a day trip to a state park so she can time behind the wheel before for her driving test. And then there the big entry that’s brand new this year—visiting a new continent. we want to expand her horizons quite literally and ensure she sees herself as a citizen of the world.

When we sat down on that rainy day and sloppily drafted our list on lined paper with jagged edges evidencing that I’ve never been going at neatly ripping paper out of spiral notebooks, I had no idea that we would capture the tug of war that is preparing a teen and preparing them for the adult world while also wanting to tightly cling to the remaining threads of their childhood.

I was struck by the juxtaposition of activities we have done since she was tiny (“pink eye-ceem” was her first phrase) and ones that are uniquely suited to her current position on the cusp of independence.

Our summer bucket list is about so much more than just summer. It is about continuing treasured traditions from the past and preparing her for the big world ahead.

That last thought leaves a lump in my throat, the one that comes with the awareness that there are not many summers left when we will make a bucket list together. It’s both a bittersweet and wonderful place to be. As much as I plan to enjoy the juicy watermelon from the farmers market, I will savor my time with my teen even more. I’m hoping I can catch a glimpse of her with a little trail of sweet watermelon juice running down her chin, just like when she was little.

And while I can’t ride off into the sunset with her, I can ride shotgun on her first road trip, and that’s a pretty fantastic place to be.

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