I am one of those good-intentioned mothers who makes a list the start of every summer of all the wholesome and educational activities I’ll do with the girls through the summer.

I buy glossy math workbooks in May, hoping that the extra work will help the children retain what they learned the previous school year — and maybe have a jump on the new season of learning. I pledge to do flashcards, visit every museum in a 100-mile radius, study star charts, participate faithfully in the library’s book club, and take leisurely nature walks to give my children a sense of appreciation for horticulture and geology.

I announced this ambitious plan back on the first summer day, while the girls ate a well-balanced breakfast of scrambled eggs, whole wheat, yogurt, and strawberries. And, then I promptly resharpened their school pencils.

Both of my girls stared blankly at me, with slow blinking eyes, as they slowly chewed their toast. Then, they skittered to a far corner of the house to plot out a summer with more sunscreen and ice cream.

Girls: 145 points
Mom: 5 points

By the time summer ended, and the new school year began, I got to thinking about that list.

Yeah. So. We visited exactly one museum. If the breakfasts are well-balanced, the credit goes to the vitamin fortification of boxed cereal. Our geology lesson amounted to the rock collection I discovered after I heard something sounding like an avalanche coming from the clothes dryer. And that arsenal of workbooks? Maybe the girls hid them.

At that point, a mom can do one of two things. She can look at the list and determine that she has ruined the lives of her impressionable children.

Or she can make a new list — a list of what really happens on summer vacation.

I started making a new list toward the end of summer, on the day that I walked up approximately 52 flights of stairs with the girls and their dad to stand at the mouth of a waterpark ride. This ride was something akin to a swirling vortex of terror.

Innocent people are plummeted into the thrill ride like being shot from a cannon, straight into the depths of the “Howlin’ Tornado.” Terrified riders cling to plastic handles on an inflated tube.

Clarification: I was terrified. My husband cackled hysterically. On our third trip down, I saw Anna whispering to her older sister. I asked her what they were conspiring. “Well,” she said hesitantly. “I’m not sure I should tell you this, but . . . um . . . Dad told us to watch your face during the ride, because it’s the funniest thing ever.”

I perhaps have hit a new level of crazy, but that ride of sheer terror is toward the top of my new summer list, the real list. And there’s more:

  • We didn’t have many nature walks, but we climbed a few trees and marveled at how a branch can hold a person.
  • Despite a goal to sharpen our musical dexterity over the summer, Lydia’s clarinet was removed from its case exactly twice; however, we’ve had a number of all-out dance parties before bedtime.
  • We still don’t know as many constellations as I would have liked, but man, you could just about cry when you stretch out on your back next to a little fishing lake in Minnesota and look up at that gorgeous sky, with your sweaty kids breathing next to you.

Our list has more sugar and mud and SPF-50 and waffle cones and hip-hop and go-carts and swirling vortexes than I had intended. But the truth is, summer is the skinned elbow, the front seat of a roller coaster, the last S’more, the bellyflop in the pool, the chore boots, the firefly in the jar, and the crowded bed when the thunderstorm rumbles.

This is the list, the real list, the list that made our summer a real summer. It’s everything the mother never planned, but everything we actually needed.

Jennifer Dukes Lee

Jennifer Dukes Lee

Jennifer used to cover crime, politics, and natural disasters as an award-winning news journalist in the Midwest. She blogs at www.JenniferDukesLee.com Now, Jennifer uses her reporting skills to chase after the biggest story in history: the redemptive story of Christ. . Soon, her words will make their way into her debut nonfiction Christian book, Love Idol: Letting Go of Your Need for Approval – and Seeing Yourself through God’s Eyes (Tyndale Momentum 2014). She and her husband live on the Lee family farm in Iowa with their two daughters.