The Unstructured Summer: The 80s Are BACK!


Child Fishing

I’m naming Summer 2020 “The Unstructured Summer”. Because of COVID, I won’t rush my six children off to camp or struggle to locate misplaced eye goggles in time for swimming lessons. There will be no hotel rooms or weekend getaways — and my passport will continue to collect dust in a distant corner.

Summer 2020 is the summer of no plans. It’s daunting, right? Perhaps it is easy to feel slighted and frustrated amid the string of days filled with nothing. Canceled plans, social distancing, and modified EVERYTHING.

Yet, I’m realizing the unstructured summer is actually an outstanding gift. 

Complete freedom and spontaneity? The summer of 2020 is shaping up to be one that I didn’t wish for. Yet, I will embrace it nonetheless. Perhaps I’ll make a family summer bucket list, or perhaps I’ll just “wing it”. 

It has taken me some serious time and self reflection to see this moment through a positive lens. I plan to use it as wisely as the spiffy new waffle iron I received for Mother’s Day. For the record, I loved that waffle iron.

During non-COVID times, an unstructured summer is impossible. 

From the departure of rotary phones and paper road atlases, the world is different now. The world is faster and more rigid. I’ve earned every wrinkle and grey hair for living through harem pants and the Aquanet hairstyles that defied gravity. It was during the warm summer days of the 80s that I didn’t use the Internet. Instead I used another powerful tool beginning with the letter “I”. I used my imagination. I gathered bugs, rode my bicycle, collected rocks, and tried to learn how to cartwheel. Despite countless hours of tumbling, I never did master the elusive cartwheel.

The 80s are BACK!

I’m about to show my children everything I know about fishing, getting lost in a fabulous book, and growing a garden. I will release them to the magnificent world that we live in, and let them climb a tree and walk the dog. They can take a drink of water from the hose, and I’ll remind myself that in small quantities, the bacteria won’t make them drop dead. 

Children everywhere will boast skinned knees and grass stained foot bottoms. They will become just as feral as they are domesticated. Let’s be sure they explore everything their neighborhood has to offer. When they ditch their bikes for a homemade popsicle break (frozen juice), I’ll release them back to the wild as soon as they are finished. I will holler after them to close the screen door, just as my mother did. Regardless, they will not hear because they will have already begun a new adventure. 

I will not be entertaining them.

Nonetheless, they will find me making a fresh batch of bubble solution, and filling the squirt guns. After the corn is shucked, and dinner eaten, I’ll wash away the grime from the day. They will sleep soundly with sun-kissed skin, and bruised elbows. We’ll apply witch hazel to mosquito bites, and hang play worn clothing in the fresh air to dry. 

The summer of 2020 will be the summer of my childhood. It will be the unstructured summer they’ve never had.

I hope my children find salamanders, eat plenty of s’mores, and gaze into the night sky. Maybe we’ll pitch our tent in the backyard. We have an entire season to enjoy and I’m vowing not to waste it. I only have eighteen summers with my children, and I plan on etching 2020 forever into our memory.

This is the summer of my childhood-reimagined. 


  1. Love this so much! Please teach me your secrets on wrangling large groups of children without losing your mind! ☺️ Your reflection on “our summers” choked me up a bit. Those were such good days and so simple. Such a great reminder.

Comments are closed.