As Minnesotans, we know how to pack a car for the winter months; a winter survival kit, if you will. There’s always a small candle and some granola bars, matches and extra blankets, a shovel, and a snow brush for the windshield. The gas tank is almost always more than half full. I have a bin of extra hats and mittens and sometimes there’s a random scarf thrown in there for good measure. If we get stranded on the side of the road, we are ready to survive for days… or at least a couple of hours.
But the summertime always catches me off guard.
In the spring I take the winter bin out of the back of the van and admire the extra space in my trunk. I vacuum it and imagine how much better the groceries will fit. I know that bikes can be easily hauled around. The space in the back of my van is a wide open frontier. And then I started replace the winter bin with the summer bin.
What’s a summer bin, you might ask? It’s simple: it keeps my sanity for when we’re out and about enjoying summer.
Scoot in and let me tell you a little tale of chilly woe. We live by a huge body of water, and water–whether it’s a puddle or Lake Superior–attracts small humans like a magnet. We stopped one day while we were in Duluth for something or another. It was hot, they sky was blue with a few puffy clouds; it was, for all intents and purposes, the perfect summer day. We were just going to throw rocks into the lake, maybe dip our toes in the cold water. I watched with some concern as my small human inched his hot body further and further out into the water. First it was just his toes as he tossed rocks. Then up to his calves and then his knees. And then a wave toppled him off balance and he was completely soaked head to foot. And we still had a 40 minute drive north home. In spite of the blue sky day, he was shivering by the time we walked back to our van because Lake Superior is a lot of things, but warm is not one of them. I stripped him down to his teeny tiny undies, and even they were soaking wet, so I stripped those off, too. I found a random questionably clean t-shirt of my husband’s shoved in the back and I wrapped my shivering, naked boy up for our drive home.
That was the first and last time I took any sort of drive without a summer bin.
The summer bin holds things like a full change of clothes for each kid plus a sweatshirt, because you never know when the wind is going to shift by the lake. It has a first aid kit, extra sunscreen, bug spray, some sort of snack like granola bars and bottled water, maybe fruit snacks or trail mix. It also has a picnic blanket and an extra towel. I have a separate bin that has some beach toys – a few buckets and shovels, a dump truck – things that are fun and easy to pull out when we’re making a random stop at the lake, which we do often. Sometimes I add some bubbles if I remember to grab them from the dollar bin or a butterfly net or a magnifying glass. There are also plastic bags for wet clothes and ziplocks for carrying extra special treasures.
I love to be able to haul the kids in the car for a spontaneous adventure. I love knowing that I can be a “yes mom” if they want to jump into the lake because they’re hot or because they legitimately did fall in because I have a change of clothes and a towel to dry them off. Does the bin take up a good portion of the back of the van? Yes. Do I have to haul it out when we’re going camping or out of town? Yes. But it’s literally a bin that can be easily moved.
The hardest part is remembering to replace the clothes and towel after we use them on one of our many North Shore adventures!