Balancing Act

Listening for summertime's golden opportunities

August brings annual flood of remorse for fun not yet had

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Summer's end

Summer's end (Stephen Matera / sGetty Image / April 23, 2013)

I'm a huge fan of riding a bike to work in the summer. I can't think of a simpler way to save money, help the environment and squeeze in a little exercise.

It's funny, then, that I keep not doing it. It's sort of astonishing, really.

I mean, I've actually never done it.

This is a familiar feeling for me. Year after year, August arrives, and with it a flood of panic and remorse over all the things I've failed to do during the summer.

Here it is two weeks before school resumes and I have not once packed a picnic breakfast, roused my children from bed and watched the sun rise from one of this city's incongruously splendid beaches.

Still haven't made it to Six Flags, in spite of my kids' repeated pleas. Haven't built a lemonade stand or grown our own basil or, come to think of it, planted our flower boxes. I was definitely going to teach my daughter to dive this summer.

I can't quite get my head around summer. Am I doing it wrong? Or is it a fallacy, this notion of three schedule-free months, waiting to be filled with fun and sunscreen and bonding with my children?

I ran my quandary by Liz Pryor, a life coach and single mom of three who gained fame for her straight-shooting gig on "Good Morning America."

Summer, she said, is neither a fallacy nor an epic failure on my part. It's a change of routine that, like all change, needs to be managed before it manages you.

"You want to have control of your life and you want to have fun with your kids," she said. "How do you really do that?"

She encouraged me to find ways to get away without physically going away.

"Give yourself times when you're allowed to sit down," she said. "This is one way of helping you get to a place where you're connecting with your kids and you feel less like you need to get away for a week."

Sitting, she said, should not be accompanied by a device.

"At work, do your work," she said. "When you get home — for real — do not read your emails. I turn the alert sound off so I don't even know when new emails are coming in. Just ignore them."

She told me to sneak in my kids' rooms when they're almost asleep and grab an extra few minutes of conversation. They're not getting up for school the next morning, after all.

"I still do this and I have an 18-year-old," she said. "I go in and talk to her for 10 to 15 minutes before she's asleep. That's when it all comes out. You know, kids reveal the most in the dark."

Interesting that she kept giving me advice that had nothing to do with getting my basil planted and my beach breakfast packed.

What about that stuff?

"You don't need to go to Lake Michigan to connect," she said.

It is, after all, the connecting, or the potential for it, that sits at the heart of most of the activities I'm failing to check off my list.

Family therapist Wendy Mogel, author of "The Blessing of a Skinned Knee" (Scribner), prescribed for me a dose of "drop and listen."

"Relaxed, friendly, curious, enraptured, non-inquisition-style parental listening is often one of the first casualties of the busy, tightly scheduled school year," she said. "When your child starts to tell you about something that happened at camp or on a play date or while visiting grandparents, stop what you are doing right away, settle down in a chair or on the floor and listen.

"Keep your child going by asking leading questions," she said. "Be fascinated. 'And than what happened? Wow! That must have been surprising! What about after that? Then what did he do?'" she said. "Don't turn this into a teachable moment. Make no judgments, give no advice, offer no opinion.

"Imagine," she said, "your child is your college roommate that you haven't seen in five years. 'Do tell!'"

These are things I can do. These are things I want to do, a lot more than I want to go to Six Flags, to be honest.

And best of all, I can do them year-round.

Unlike riding my bike to work.

hstevens@tribune.com

Twitter @heidistevens

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