Living spontaneously in Chicago: Summer break and beyond

Each of my pregnancies brought serious summer fomo (fear of missing out). I had kids fairly young and I would hear from friends about their summer adventures at the beach, on restaurant patios and spontaneous trips to, well, anywhere. It could have been Michigan or Hawaii and I would have been equally as jealous at their ability to make a decision and execute it. The most spontaneous thing I did the past seven summers was ordering a different ice cream flavor.

This summer was different. It wasn’t like we saw it coming either. We didn’t suddenly proclaim, “This summer we get a damn life!” Nope, it just happened. My baby turned two in July and is officially our last child. My husband and I get a full night’s sleep at least four nights out of the week and my boys can all finally open the pantry door and reach into the cereal box. It hit us like a ton of bricks. We felt delightfully confused, arguably rested and possibly even adventurous.

Here are the five most spontaneous things we didn’t know we were going to do this summer, and what we plan to do until temps drop.

Family trips

We got out of the woods and we hit the woods. I had never been camping and decided this was as good a time as any to dabble in the great outdoors. We rented an RV with a day’s notice, got a campsite at the sixth place I called and went “camping.” We hit up the splash pads and water parks at Wisconsin Dells and canoed through Devils Lake. On separate weekends we hiked Starved Rock and raced bumper boats at Happy Acres Kampground. I’m not sure if it was the lack of travel experiences or an ignited love of nature, but we rocked these spontaneous summer trips and highly recommend them all.


First of all, I have a love/hate relationship with festivals. As in I hate crowds and lines, but my kids love literally everything about them. From Lisle’s Eyes to the Sky Balloon Festival to Forest Park’s SummerFest (renamed MusicFest), we hit them head on. We even danced, drummed and conquered Kidzapalooza at Lollapalooza. Rest in peace summer festival season, we are officially ready for Oktoberfest!

Thursday Night Out

Starting back in May, those of us neighboring Oak Park got to enjoy the village’s live music, great wine and friendly, familiar faces at this weekly summer event. We took the boys this year and they just got it. They waited for their balloon swords, gathered their friends, ate cookies off abandoned tables and they were happy. While TNO is ending this month, we still plan on enjoying more signature events in our community. On Aug. 20 there’s a Micro Brew Review event in downtown Oak Park, and Oaktoberfest on Sept. 16 and 17.

Staying up late and sleeping in

This is new for us. But it is a new pastime I hope lasts many years to come. The kids played in our yard, the neighbors’ yards, roasted marshmallows and had water balloon fights until it was dark. Clocks were irrelevant without a baby on a sleep schedule. Now that school is starting we may have to cut back on late nights, but we are not giving them up completely. Next week, for example, we are heading to the Chicago Fire vs. LA Galaxy soccer game at Toyota Park with the kids. Dippin’ Dots, fireworks and more “late” nights are in our future.

Summer camp

Dropping my son Max off at his first year full of summer camps was memorable. He was exhausted from days at the pool, ice-cream socials, dance parties and hula-hoop contests. Our first year of summer camp is a wrap, and to him, it was magical. We still plan to drop in and take some fun classes, and sites like Dabble Kids and Pearachute Kids make it easy to find the best activities in the city and suburbs.

Here’s to our first truly spontaneous summer break as a family. I’m looking forward to more adventures, new memories, and finally, being more spontaneous this year.

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