This year is the first year I have a child in full-time school, and I have been shocked by how intense it is from the perspective of a parent. I work part-time, and we had previously patched together childcare between my husband, my mother, friends, and myself, allowing the boys to attend part-time preschool programs prior to jumping into “real school”. Now, my kindergartener’s day starts at 7:00 am when he wakes up and doesn’t really start winding down until about 4:00 pm, when he’s home for the evening. While he’s at school, he’s not playing house and cutting and pasting shapes like I did in kindergarten– he’s in reading groups, learning how to use computers, and practicing his sight words. It’s a new world out there!

Because of this, I’ve tried very hard to inject a little more fun into our lives this year in unexpected ways. I know how busy life can be with little kids and everything that comes with that territory, and I have made peace with the fact that I will never pack cute lunches in a bento box with Hello Kitty shaped fruit wedges. The lunches I pack look just like this, and no one is pinning them:

This took under 3 minutes to assemble. Our fruit is always shaped like...fruit.

This took under 3 minutes to assemble. Our fruit is always shaped like…fruit.

However, when I do find myself somewhat ahead of the curve and with a little free time, I make a conscious effort to make the most of it. One of our favorite “games” is one I call “The Van Has a Mind of Its Own”, where I pick my son up from school, and start driving somewhere– anywhere– that isn’t home. When the kids realize we’re not headed home, they start saying “You missed the turn! We aren’t going home? Where are we going??”, which is when I answer “We missed the turn! Oh NO! The van has a mind of its own! Where is it taking us??” Silly and ridiculous? Yes!! But it creates deafening squeals of laughter from the kids. “The Van” has taken us for frozen yogurt, trips to the craft store, and special events at the library after school during the past year.

Each Friday night, we have a family “movie night” at home, and the boys really look forward to it. Part of the allure (ok, most of the allure) of movie night is the fact that it’s the one time each week when we have a “real” dessert after dinner. The kids are in charge of picking the movie and the dessert, and I have a rule that I won’t say no, no matter what dessert they choose, as long as they give me time to gather supplies. One week, my older son asked for an ice cream sundae buffet, thinking there was no way I’d agree to it.  We set out tiny ramekins for the ice cream and tiny “topping stations” with leftover holiday candy, chopped nuts, sprinkles, etc., and let them make their own sundaes…and he still talks about it months later! I’ve had requests for milkshakes, tea and cake (when we were on a Lillian Hoban book kick), and ice cream cookie sandwiches. Everyone looks forward to movie night!

Finally, we try to leave each other notes when we can. My older son is starting to sleep in on the weekends, and I am sometimes out the door for work before he wakes up. I leave him “good-bye” notes if I don’t get the chance to tell him in person, and now that he knows how to write, he has started writing back with notes of his own! I sneak occasional notes into his lunch box, and he sneaks occasional notes into my purse. I’ve made the notes a random occurrence, rather than a regular thing, simply because I know I won’t remember every single day, but it has been another fun surprise to look forward to.

Keeping the fun alive is hard during the drudgery of a cold New England winter, but these little things have made a big difference for us. Do you have any fun family traditions you’d like to share? I’m always looking for new ideas!

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