What do you remember most about summer growing up as a kid? One of the things that sticks out in my head is the summer I decided to eat tree bark. I remember prying off several chunks and dipping them into a jar of peanut butter I’d snuck out under my shirt when nobody was looking.
I remember telling my mom about it later as she cleaned up the puke in my sleeping bag.
My family was on a camping trip, all four of us in a tiny pop-up camper about the size of a thimble, so everybody got to share in the puke experience. I expected to get in trouble, but instead I got a story about the summer my mom stuck a bean up her nose. My dad chimed in with a story about the first time he ate a worm. (Yep, there was a second time.)
Looking back over my summers, what I remember most is the family adventures in cheesy campgrounds where I had to walk a mile with my mom to find an outhouse with a wooden toilet seat that gave you splinters right where you didn’t want them. I loved those summers when we would pile in the car armed with cans of bug spray and Ziploc bags packed with peanut butter sandwiches and drive for hours until we found a place to set up camp.
Those camping trips sometimes led to crabby arguments, but also conversations around the campfire I don’t think I would have had any other way. They helped me see my family as actual people. I discovered that my brother was a great storyteller, my dad had gotten kicked out of school for stealing a jacket, and my mom had once gotten 14 valentines from a boy named Lukey. Sometimes we just laughed until somebody snorted. Sometimes they led to bigger topics about friendships, family values, and God.
So, whether it’s a trip to Disney or a trip to the backyard to roast marshmallows, what adventure will you go on this summer with your family? The point is not where you go, but your sense of adventure when you get there.
Here are some ways you can make the most of your adventures this summer:
1. Invite your kids to ask you questions about when you were a kid.
Get the ball rolling with a funny story of something dumb you did or tried that went south. It’s helpful for your kids to hear how you made dumb choices, too.
2. Teach your kids something.
Use your adventure to pass a valuable skill to your kids. Camping with my family was where my dad taught me how to trout fish. He felt strongly that true fishermen gutted their own fish, which was a challenge for a girl who had the gift of gagging, but my dad held to his convictions. I remember my dad telling me “You can do it,” and then realizing that my dad really thought I could.
3. Let your kids teach you something.
Your kids know how to do things you don’t. I’ll never forget the summer my daughter tried to teach me how to do a bicycle kick (a soccer move that made me fall down). Did I need to learn this maneuver? No. But my daughter needed to know that I admired her and was willing to learn from her.
4. Let go of your expectations.
Don’t have the margin for a big trip? Don’t let that stop you. Here’s what’s true: The small things you do consistently over time will mean more to your kids than the big expensive vacations. Invest your time (not your money) in laughing and talking and see where it leads you.
Here’s my challenge for you this summer: Go on a family adventure. Tell stories you’ve never told before. Do something ridiculous together just for the heck of it. Be messy. Learn something new that makes you fall down. Laugh till something snorts out your nose and stay up way too late. You’ll be glad you did.