Our school calendar has summer break lasting 80 days this year. In Tallahassee, those 80 days average about 14 hours of sunlight apiece. So I made an ant list. You see May is already half over, and I’m terrified. In two weeks the schedule gets pulled; my 9-2 workday gets the squeeze. And somehow I will need to work with four kids wandering aimlessly about the house, four kids whose natural bent will be to use electronics like a lollipop, balk at being turned outside in the hot and humid Tallahassee air, and to exploit the words “I’m bored.”
The ant list is an idea I got from my friend’s mom who used it when her children were small. The deal is this: do the things on your ant list; and when you’re done, you get to go do something fun. The things on the ant list range from cleaning toilets and sweeping porches to planning a meal and writing a letter to a sponsored child across the Pond. The things on the afternoon rewards list range from family bike rides ending at the pool to a trip to our favorite novelty shop and soda fountain. So my four little ants learn useful skills and stay busy for the morning, with the promise of something fun come afternoon. Mom gets to work with fewer interruptions (and not having to stop and start the clock repeatedly makes it much easier to bill).
Two summers ago, I took the ant list idea and made it my own with the “I’m Bored” jar. If any of my children uttered that phrase to me, they had to pull a folded slip of paper out of that jar. It contained chores and assignments. For example, they might have to look something up in the atlas and write about it. They might have to write me the definition of boredom. They might have to dust the window blinds. This year I needed something bigger than the “I’m Bored” jar, its use more of a pesticide against looking to Mom for entertainment.
This year I have been picking up contracts and using my mornings to produce billable work. The contracts are sporadic enough I can’t bank on them, let alone justify a series of expensive summer camps times four. So the ant list is going to be my in-home camp, my summer Mary Poppins. And I hope something magical comes from it, not just a clean house but fun memories of afternoons together, reaping the rewards of our morning labors.
Well that’s the idea anyway. Perhaps I’ll write an update come July. I’m guessing my ant list buys me 4 hours a day. That leaves an average of 10 hours a day over an 80-day summer break, equaling 800 hours of varying degrees of childcare. So if you have any additions for our ant list or afternoon rewards, I’ve got roughly 800 hours to fill…