Summer vacation in five phases

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Much like falling in love, grieving or recovery, there are  five  phases of summer vacation that families go through on their way to surviving approximately 100 days of togetherness.

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Photo by Tim Forkes)
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
(Photo by Tim Forkes)


After ten months of school, the grind of making breakfast, packing lunches, hustling out the door, doing schoolwork, fighting about homework and enduring 180 school days like are the movie Groundhog Day. Summer vacation arrives with great expectations: free time, exotic vacations, spur of the moment plans, catching up with friends, non-stop family fun.

The anticipated good times are only limited by imagination.  Families make lists of the 30 Major League ball parks they will visit, as well as every camp, ice cream stand and beach they will go to; plan every trip they will make to see a friend, cousin or grandparent; catalogue every book they will read, or how many strokes will come off their golf game. But most importantly, there will be so much unbelievable quality family time! Summer is going to be awesome. This phase is marked by euphoria.

Go camping in a national forest. (Photo by Ken Forkes)
Go camping in a national forest.
(Photo by Ken Forkes)


Everyone is happy, carefree and eager to begin restful, relaxed days of unscheduled fun. Until, well, the kids can’t think of anything to do, which starts about 24 hours after school ends. Why is it that the first day of summer vacation is the longest day of the year?

Because the kids have now been together at home with their first dose of unstructured freedom and they do not have the faintest idea what to do with themselves. Their little brains are shocked that they can do anything they want, so of course they do nothing.  This phase lasts a few days and is marked by inactivity, wandering around the house , confusion about what to do and occasional dismay.

Visit a favorite ice cream — or frozen custard — stand. Leon’s in Milwaukee, WI. (Photo by Tim Forkes)
Visit a favorite ice cream — or frozen custard — stand. Leon’s in Milwaukee, WI.
(Photo by Tim Forkes)


Having pulled out of the previous phase, families get into the swing of summer. They begin to act on the list of ideas they made in the anticipation phase, although many realize that their summer bucket list was in all likelihood a little grandiose. So instead of going to all 30 major league ball parks this summer, they head to a game or two — rather than three road trips and a flight across the country over the course of the summer.

Families settle for a leisurely vacation somewhere. Cookouts, beach days and family game nights are hallmarks of the enchantment phase. While hopefully this is the longest segment of the summer, the length of this phase can be affected by the age of the children at home. Teens, who are hormonally required to look down their noses at anything that does not involve their friends, may disrupt any extended period of enchantment. Generally speaking, though, this phase includes lots of laughter, good memory building, and family bonding.

Go enjoy a baseball game; America’s pastime. (Photo by Tim Forkes)
Go enjoy a baseball game; America’s pastime.
(Photo by Tim Forkes)

Boredom and Regret

What goes up must come down. After several weeks of enchantment, families start to suffer from too much togetherness and kids start to itch to see all their friends from school, who oddly enough are not always around because they have not synched their vacation time to your vacation time. A suggestion to go to the beach, pool or park  might be met with a sighed, ”Again?”

Frequent bemoaning that, “there’s nothing to do,” or “I’m bored” is responded to by parents with  “there’s  always plenty of chores to do,” or, “ when  I was young, my family never got to do all the things you did this summer,” culminating with, “just go out and find something to do.”

Go sailing (Photo by Tim Forkes)
Go sailing
(Photo by Tim Forkes)

Also, families start to regret not doing some of the fantastic events listed in the anticipation phase, but the summer is drawing to a close so there isn’t much time left. The boredom and regret segment is marked by lots of TV watching, XBox playing, sighs  and cereal boxes lined up like the Great Wall of China  across the kitchen table so you don’t have to look at each other while eating breakfast.

Spend a quiet day at a local lake. (Photo by Tim Forkes)
Spend a quiet day at a local lake.
(Photo by Tim Forkes)


In the final week or two before school starts, the realization that summer is just about over begins. There’s an initial sense of, “Oh my god, we didn’t do anything all summer,” and a scramble to cram in one or two awesome things so that summer wraps up on a high note.

In the midst of the last hurrah, the death knell of summer arrives:  the letters from school for innumerable supplies like 25  sharpened pencils, nontoxic/no odor/washable magic markers, 50 boxes of tissues, six different colored one inch binders, an old sock for an eraser and hand sanitizer. As families start the back to school shopping, they accept that summer is over and it will soon be back to the school grind. This phase is marked by mixed emotions: wistfulness and eagerness; nervousness and excitement; gratitude for the fun summer and resentment that its over — and frequent, expensive trips to Staples, Target and Wal-Mart.

Or just hang out at the beach all summer. (Photo by Tim Forkes)
Or just hang out at the beach all summer.
(Photo by Tim Forkes)

These phases are not scientifically proven but are anecdotally reliable. How will your family summer experience compare? Here’s to long phases of enchantment, minimal boredom, and great sales at Staples!