Bye-Bye Bucket List — Hello Throughline!

There’s a better way to summer.

Emily PG Erickson

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Photo by Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash

It’s summer in Minnesota. That means it’s time for my annual attempt to convince my kids — who are 7, 4, and almost 1 — that the impossible is true: No, the sun won’t set for two more hours, but yes, you really have to head toward bed. These long summer days are a massive contrast to the winter ones here at the 45th parallel when we walk home from school at sunset. But even with all the daylight this season, there aren’t enough hours to handle the enormous pent-up demand of those hibernating months.

How do you decide what gets priority? Many families turn to a bucket list, compiling a definitive chronicle of every single thing they hope to do before school starts again in the fall. This makes a certain kind of sense. After all, if you name it, you can do it. Those manifestation vibes were definitely part of the draw for me. But I’ve discovered a hitch. You can’t actually do it. At least not all of it. Time is finite, even summertime. That is the hole in the summer-bucket-list logic.

I felt stuck. But then I recalled an item from my family’s summer bucket list: Blowing bubbles. Everyone who spends time with little kids knows that blowing bubbles is code for popping bubbles. And when it comes to popping bubbles, there are generally two kinds of kids. One kind simply must pop every single bubble. This kid ends up in frustrated tears as, inevitably, that one perfect bubble sways away in the sun, just out of reach. Then there’s the kid who knows it’s about the fun of the attempt and thinks the whole thing is just hysterical.

When I made my bucket list for this summer, after that sweet list-making satisfaction evaporated, I felt like that first type of bubble-popper: Overwhelmed and out of touch with the point behind it all. But I wanted to feel like the second kind: Delighted by what was possible and keyed into what really matters. I needed help to get there.

I decided to try something different. I closed my shared Google Doc, grabbed a sticky note, and penned my summer throughlines. In the same vein as picking a life direction instead of a particular path or a word of the year rather than a resolution, throughlines articulate the big ideas you want to guide your day-to-day decisions.

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Emily PG Erickson

Former mental health researcher sharing insights about psychology and parenting. www.emilypgerickson.com