Unpretentious summer fun

While reading Achtung Baby by Sara Zaske, a book about an American couple bringing up their two young children in Berlin, I noticed the author made reference to the old German saw about how there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inadequate clothing.

She then goes on to elaborate on how children in Berlin can be found frolicking outside in all manner of weather, and how it’s common knowledge among German parents that a successful childhood requires the ownership of multiple pairs of snowpants, raincoats, winter boots, hats, mittens, etc., etc., so that a sodden snowsuit never gets between a child and her rightful place in the great outdoors.

In this way, German parenting actually sounds a lot like Minnesotan parenting. This past winter, for all its bleak endlessness, was — let’s be honest — a dream come true for a certain brand of Minnesota parent.

Many of them happen to be my Facebook friends, and so I was kept abreast of all their antics — the urban snowshoe outings; the macho, unnecessary cross-metro drives during blizzards; and the journeys to frozen lakes in order to fly kites.

I wish I could summon this kind of joie de vivre during the cold, lonely winter months. Unfortunately, the best I can do is to refrain from telling my kids how much I loathe the entire season.

Spring and summer, on the other hand, are another story. Is it “cool” to be a fair-weather Minnesotan? Obviously not. But that’s OK: It just means I really appreciate the few-and-far-between hints at livability that pop up during the warmer months.

In fact, I like summer so much that I’m convinced you don’t have to try very hard to have a good time. So therefore I present a few low-key ideas for Minnesota summer fun, good-enough-mother style:

Send them outside

Remember, less is more. You don’t always need to drag yourself to a playground, where you invariably will be forced to push children on swings. Send them outside with vague yet enticing parameters — for example, “You may go out in the yard and do whatever you want, as long as you stay inside the fence.”

If they pretend they don’t know how to make their own fun, you can give them a suggestion: Encourage them to collect various “objects of nature” (rocks, leaves, alluring dead bugs), which perhaps you may one day take to the collectors’ corner at the science museum, for example.

Engage them in yard work

Sometimes when small children are busy behaving like sociopaths, it’s hard to remember they actually enjoy being helpful (at least sometimes). So, while time outdoors can and should be full of wonder and self-directed play, it can also include tasks that tend toward the mundane — like weeding the patio.

If that’s too grim for your tastes, help them plant a little child-sized garden. Last summer my son tended to a tomato plant that was all his. Despite the fact that it produced nothing but a couple of stunted green tomatoes, he felt a strong sense of responsibility for his little plant.

Have a ‘picnic’

I used to think of a picnic as an event — something that included decent food and a certain amount of planning. Therefore, I never initiated any picnics.

Eventually, I changed my tune about picnics, realizing they could be used as a clever way to feed my children without having to prepare a “real meal.” Now we have picnics all the time!

Using a picnic basket I found at a thrift store for authenticity, I’ll toss in some sad semblance of a meal — a couple lukewarm quesadillas, some carrot sticks and hummus, a piece or two of fruit — and voila! A good-enough picnic has been achieved.


Although the summer months are a great time for ambitious outdoorsy fun, I encourage everyone to enjoy the humbler adventures off ered by our metropolitan area. For example, I’m already looking forward to taking my son to one of his favorite places in the Twin Cities — a little grove of extremely climbable trees on the east side of Lake of the Isles which he refers to simply as, “Downtown.”

Remember, it’ll be winter again soon enough — bringing with it the pressure to cross-country ski to the grocery store. Enjoy the easy living while you can.

Shannon Keough lives in St. Paul with her husband and two children. Send questions or comments to skeough@mnparent.com.