Michelle San Antonio continues our short series of essays we’re doing in August: What I Did on My Summer Vacation. She shares how summer outings have changed as her kids have gotten older, but they’re still just as sweet.

When my kids (now 18, 16, and 12) were young, our summer preparations began in May, with the drafting of our annual Summer Bucket List. We wanted to be ready to do All. The. Fun. Things. Water parks, carnivals, museums, go-karts, mini golf, baseball games, festivals, trips to visit family, day trips to neighboring CT and MA, and of course the beach, our home away from home.

Most days we left the house before 9 am and returned an hour before dinner. It was go, go, go; it took nonstop planning and packing (of snacks, water bottles, sunscreen, extra clothes), and it was a lot of work. 

But it was worth it, because I remember those summers like so many of our photos from those days—awash in a golden glow. They were, in a word, magical. Yes, there was whining, complaining, and bickering (So. Much. Bickering.) But just like with marathons, my brain has conveniently forgotten those tough parts and left me with all the joy those months brought.


One of Michelle’s magical summer fun lists.

I was often told I should slow down as the end of summer break approached and start getting the kids to bed earlier to help them transition, but we always did the opposite. We’d go barreling into those final weeks full-speed ahead, checking as many things off our list as we could. One year we got to the beach at 9 am on the final day of summer break, and stayed right through post-dinner jumps off the lifeguard chair in the waning daylight. They went to their first day of school that year overtired, sunburned, and with a little sand still stuck behind their ears.

Then they became tweens, and the tweens became teens, and the transition began. We still made our list, and mostly stuck together, but the list was much shorter and outings with friends often took precedence. Then the teens got jobs, and even when they wanted to hang out with us, trying to find times we were all available became a herculean challenge, as did finding an activity they’d all agree on.

That transitioning led to growing pains of my own. Change is hard, especially when it involves your kids’ burgeoning independence. One day they’re still clamoring around you asking for snacks and wanting to buy something at the gift shop, and the next day they’re driving themselves to work. It’s emotional whiplash.

But this summer we’ve reached a new (if somewhat shaky) equilibrium. I’ve mostly accepted that the majority of our outings will include just one or two kids, and I’m learning to be ok with it.  And as much as I miss those magical summers, I’ve come to see the magic of this new phase of life with these full-fledged, increasingly cool humans.

There’s still bickering and asking for snacks, but there’s also thoughtful conversations about interesting topics; sharing of awesome movies and shows that can’t be watched with little ones; exploring Spotify playlists that turn into trips down memory lane (everything old is new again; thanks Stranger Things).  

I used to wonder if all that summer memory-making was really resonating with them. Were all the outings and traditions as meaningful to them as they were to me?

Last year, I got my answer. The end of summer was fast approaching and we hadn’t yet gone for one of my favorite outings: drinks on the lawn at the uber-fancy Castle Hill Inn, followed by a sunset picnic dinner at Fort Adams in Newport. I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to fit it in, but with zero prompting from me, my oldest made it known that we HAD to make sure we did. “We have to take the annual photo of us running up the hill with the sun setting behind us. I mean, it’s tradition, Mom. We can’t skip that!”

We didn’t skip it, and I’ve never been happier to take a photo.


Summer memories at sunset.

Even though there’s no longer a bucket list and much of the summer now just feels like normal, ho-hum days (only hotter), sometimes the stars align and we manage to all get together for one of those special traditions that made the list every year. Those are the golden moments, and the fact that they’re fewer and farther between just makes them glow that much brighter.

Did you finish your summer fun list? What memories did you make?