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You, the Kids, and the Weekend: Surviving and Thriving During the Summer as a Single Parent

I have the kids every other weekend. My son is six, my daughter’s four, and it’s just the three of us for 48 hours. This will be my second summer as a single dad, and I think I might have it down. It’s like making chili: you have your stock ingredients, like meat, tomatoes, and chili powder, but you also add in extras, depending on your mood — ketchup, black-eyed peas, or a little processed cheese. Here’s my recipe that will allow newly single dads to not only survive the weekend, but earn major cool points from the kids in the process.

Matt O.

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  • Playdates 1 of 7
    Playdates
    When we were together, my wife did all the kid-related planning and interacting. I scuffled during those first few weekends alone with the kids like a man swatting bees. There are only so many books to read and board games to play before the kids ask to make contact with other humans. Find out who your kids like and introduce yourself to their parents over email. Ask about possible playdates. Narrow it down to the parents who allow Doritos at snacktime and have a trampoline; I find that these parents tend to be easy to talk to, which is essential to socially awkward dads like me. Along the same lines, I usually try to ingratiate myself by bringing fancy beer. Nothing says, "Let's do this again" quite like an ice-cold six-pack.
    Photo Credit: Veer
  • Local events 2 of 7
    Local events
    It also took me a while to discover that there's a whole world of FREE kid activities out there: puppet shows, workshops, face paintings, readings, fairs, etc. One of the more challenging things about being a single dad with a boy and a girl is giving equal attention to them (hint: it involves a lot of "Your turn first, then his turn"); these structured activities tend to interest both kids, which is essential. Of course, the more unusual the activity, the greater the impression. Seek out the unique. Local papers, blogs, and listservs are great resources for these sorts of activities — listservs especially. If your kid's school or playgroup has one, jump on. It's like crashing the coupon poker game in Mr. Mom; you'll find all sorts of good intel, like where to donate outgrown clothes and who gives the best kid's haircut.
    Photo Credit: Veer
  • The park 3 of 7
    The park
    Putting aside the nurture vs. nature debate, my son loves video games and my daughter loves to put on lipgloss and discipline pretend children. Again, you'll be surprised at how easy it is to loaf around during the dog days when you have no set schedule — and all the time in the world for your kids to invent their own games. But instead of falling into this auto-plan, create one. You don't want your kids telling mom (who at that moment is training bears and coordinating skywriters for her weekend) that they didn't leave the house. The easiest remedy is the local playground or park. Once loose, vary the activities, from the caber toss to the underdog swing push. Underdog = many, many cool points. Here's a quick breakdown: Grab swing, run forward, lift arms, release at zenith, duck!
    Photo Credit: Veer
  • The pool 4 of 7
    The pool
    Another no-brainer. Kids love pools, and swimming wears them out, which will mean less fights at bedtime. The important thing here is the establishment of a routine. Bring lunch and a deck of UNO to sustain them during a break in the swim action. Don't forget towels. Towels are good. As much as I'd prefer to sink into a chaise with a frozen drink and trashy mag, ages six and four with their differing abilities require intense interaction and a whole lot of improv. One of my favorite routines is called Zamboni: I encourage my son to swim and thrash about the pool while I drag his sister by her arms through his wake as if smoothing the surface with her belly. Exhausting, but worth it. No better feeling than having your kids excitedly ask to play a game that only the three of you share.
    Photo Credit: Veer
  • Sports leagues 5 of 7
    Sports leagues
    My time. Every dad needs this. Two days straight of kid intensity is, well, intense. My solution: Sunday softball. Any league will do. Kickball. Dodgeball. Cornhole. Leagues provide more routine and a new community of friends. Besides, it's good for your kids to see you having fun in an adult context. I'm a big believer in the importance of competition; here kids pick up things by watching you play and compete that they wouldn't pick up anywhere else. Or, in my case, my kids have learned that sheer grit and determination are not enough to keep their old man from tripping all over his own two feet. If other parents are in the league, swap kid-watching while either of you are on the bench so everyone has a chance to play while staying safe.
    Photo Credit: Veer
  • Day trips 6 of 7
    Day trips
    Now that you've established a rhythm and an activity safety net, it's time to freelance. To curate. To share your lifelong experience. Use the long summer days to explain boxcar racing, compare brush strokes at a museum, fish for perch, or scream yourself hoarse watching the daring young men on the flying trapeze when the circus rolls through town. The goal here is to enrich. Adult mysteries distilled and decoded through the magic of shared gestures and language between father and children. At least that's what I tell myself as I hand them their gaming devices on the ride home.
    Photo Credit: Veer
  • Out-of-town trips 7 of 7
    Out-of-town trips
    Your easiest bet. The tang of an ocean breeze, the sparks from a firefly in the woods. The memories that linger. Don't eff it up! I'm thinking here of weekend trips to the beach or an amusement park or an active dinosaur dig, where the surroundings are new and perceptions are heightened. You will never be their mom, of course, and you won't be Mom and Dad, but you can do your best to make your precious time with your kids inimitably and forever "Time with Dad." For instance: in the car, when I have no free hands and I'm not yet ready for the nuclear option of turning off the radio and playing a movie, I like to distract the kids by picking a letter and having them come up with five things inside or outside the car that start with that letter. B. Butt. Bridge. Butt! You said butt! Bottle. Bicuspid. Wait. Are we there yet? Boo.
    Photo credit: ImageSource.com

Matt O. is a Brooklyn writer and father of two. Follow him at guerreotype.tumblr.com.

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