School's Out! Summer Survival for Busy Moms

They're here! Tumbling from the school bus, fresh from Field Day, with papers and projects and petrified sandwiches spilling in their wake: your children.

Summer vacation is wonderful, no doubt about it.

Damp heads and wet bathing suits, backyard tents and fireflies in canning jars.

"Look, Mom!" rings out a hundred times a day, from the top of the pool slide to the bug-dotted bottom of an upturned rock.

Here comes the Kool-Aid Mom! She's all sweet smile and tidy clothes, calling cheerful children from the corners of the yard with a bell-like voice and tray of sweating, jewel-toned glasses.

Then comes the second day of summer vacation.

Sibling fights, tracked-in dirt, non-stop television. A complete and utter absence of clean towels. Your teen snarls from the dark corners of his room, while younger children taunt one another and squabble over the television remote. The tooth-gritting "Eh-oh!" from pre-dawn screenings of "Teletubbies" takes the place of an alarm clock.

Watch your step! That Kool-Aid stretches in sticky dribbles from the refrigerator handle, across the floor, over every counter, and out the back door. Over it all hovers the perpetual whine of "Mom! I'm bored!"

Smart home managers give some thought to summertime survival, and they do it now, before the deluge. Ponder these pointers to fine-tune home, schedule, soul and sanity for the upcoming summer season:

Simplify Your Surroundings

"Bring the outside in!" is summer's theme, in more ways than one. From banging doors to trailing dishes, your home will be turned inside out, more way-station and supply depot than a series of dedicated rooms.

Summer is no time for the delicate, the costly, the special because all of the above will be (1) dirtied, (2) lost, or (3) broken by summer's end.

It makes sense to strip for action. Don't want the pretty embroidered master-bath linens to hit the backyard trail? Bundle them up and hide them for the summer.

Replace them with a shabby set of wedding-gift towels, and be grateful! September's sane and slower pace will mean time to bring back the ruffles and flourishes. They'll be all the more treasured for the protective time out.

Remove breakables from child-height surfaces to protect them from racing children--your own, their guests, and a few neighborhood interlopers who saw the fun and just joined in. Summer decor should be functional, so round up the "objets" into boxes and make room for the Bug House centerpiece, complete with dead bug. My dear, you are so Chez Summer!

Replace glass drinking glasses with plastic mega-slurp freebies from convenience stores and fast food establishments. You won't whimper when drinkware is used to excavate tunnels for the gerbil or worry about little ones running with glasses in their hands.

Chill Out In The Kitchen

In the kitchen, less is also more. Strip down meal planning and menus to match summer's relaxed schedule. Who needs to sweat over a hot stove when the gas grill is at hand? Try for a few simple standards for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and save the recipe tryouts and gourmet meals for the crisp and energized days of autumn.

A few simple preparations will save you, Mom, endless hours of "pour me, feed me" over the coming months.

Personally, I wish to kiss the wonderful engineer who invented the little whale-spout water dispenser attached to Moby Dick The Great White Refrigerator. Even little ones can pour their own ice water, if you put plastic glasses within reach and tuck a cotton area rug under Moby's toes to catch the inevitable overspray.

Prepare a large jug of your family's "house wine" each morning, whether it's fruit juice, powdered drink mix or iced tea, and tuck it in a self-dispensing plastic beverage container on a refrigerator shelf. Now, if only they would invent a self-closing refrigerator door.

Establish a "snack site" within child reach and you're a step ahead of ravenous children.

Include healthy options like fruit, raw veggies, string cheese, animal crackers, popcorn, raisins and dried cereal instead of sugar-filled cookies or greasy potato chips.

Bundle all of the above into a large plastic food storage container, label it "Snacks" with a permanent marker, and put it on a low refrigerator shelf.

Encourage independent lunch preparation by doing the same with all sandwich makings: PB&J, jar of mayo, floppy packs of lunch meat and cheese, cello pack of washed lettuce all stuffed into large open container labeled "Sandwich Makings." You pull the box out, you make your sandwich, and you replace the box.

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