It happens every year. After months of anticipation, the last day of school finally arrives. The kids are overjoyed. Summer stretches out before us like a vast and inviting beach scene.
Sounds peaceful, doesn’t it?
It doesn’t take long to realize there are obstacles crowding my view of the lapping water and white sand: towels strewn on the bathroom floor; T-shirts littering the hallway; dirty socks in many creative and out-of-the-way places; backpacks still overstuffed from the last day of school with crumpled papers; broken crayons and one winter boot; syrup-encrusted dishes on the kitchen table (never in the sink); candy and drink wrappers hither and yon across the lawn; and bikes lying quietly in wait behind my minivan.
After about three days of this, my summer vacation beach attitude has been extinguished, annihilated – in other words, sucked completely dry. My normally calm voice takes on a bellowing tenor, and I hear myself using phrases like, “It’s my way or the highway!”
I turn into a drill sergeant – passing judgment, handing down orders and blowing my whistle (well, I would if I had one).
This is no longer a picnic on the sand. We have entered a zone known by a short, two-syllable, snap to attention kind of phrase: “Boot camp!” I need say it only once, and my kids know they are no longer on the pristine shoreline with a pineapple smoothie in their hands. They are in a land where responsibility is king and rules are meant to be kept.
This year, I decided not to wait for three days of chaos to zap my summertime spirit. I made a preemptive maneuver and instituted boot camp on day one of summer vacation, while my calm voice and patient demeanor were both more or less intact.
It isn’t as bad as it sounds. We still run through the sprinkler, eat freezies and sit on the living room sofa in our wet swimsuits. Summer is meant to be fun. Boot camp just means we are paying a little extra attention to where our freezie wrappers end up – on the grass or in the garbage.
We started boot camp with a brief discussion on chores. They were eager to start. I wasn’t fooled. Their positive attitude only demonstrated their lack of knowledge regarding household responsibilities. Simply put, chores mean work. No one likes work, especially a kid on summer vacation.
I assigned them each a household task based on age and ability.
"Can we start today?” asked the 6-year-old, who’d been assigned to keeping the fridge stocked with freezies.
Next, we reviewed our house rules. We talked about basic things like, “Respect others and things.” “Be kind.” And, “No littering.” They all nodded in agreement with the rules. This is because they weren’t really thinking about them; they were still excited about getting to do chores.
And then, it was time to play. It is summer, after all. They went off in different directions to find their own summer fun. It wasn’t long before the 6-year-old returned, visibly excited.
“I have another rule,” he practically bubbled.
“What’s that?” I asked, half paying attention.
“Don’t hold Legos when you’re sitting on the toilet!”
I never would have thought of it myself (in a million years), but had to admit it was a pretty good rule.
“Oh, and you need to get the plunger,” he added. “And can I have a freezie?”
“Sure,” I said. “And take enough for your brothers, they’ll be wanting one, too.”
I thought about going to look for the plunger, but reached for the fridge instead. I pulled out a freezie, snipped open the plastic, popped it in my mouth and went out to join the kids. Boot camp could wait – at least until after lunch.
For now, the surf was calling.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, published playwright, author and member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.