A week into summer vacation my kids were already muttering the “B” word. Not too loudly, though, because we have a list of chores designed especially for bored children. But they were missing the daily interaction with their friends and a day packed with activity. They were asking for play dates. Lots of them. And with three kids — each with lots of friends — the prospect of hosting lots of play dates was daunting.

The list of reasons NOT to have people over was long … and growing, the more I thought about it.

The house would have to be cleaned. Other moms would be looking! The front yard needed weeding, so that the house didn’t look abandoned. I’d have to think of games and activities to keep everyone entertained (and not bored) for a two-hour play session. Toys would need to be collected, organized and laid out for play. Food would have to be prepared. Our rambunctious dogs would have to be contained.

Just thinking about it all exhausted me. Why couldn’t my kids just play with each other? There are three of them after all. That’s enough to have fun. But I finally caved in to their grumblings. We planned one backyard play day and they all got to invite friends. Fourteen of them, as it turned out.

A few days before the event, my to-do list was still two pages long. With a full-time job and three kids to take care of, something was going to have to give. I decided I was being too hard on myself.

So I simplified. Here’s how:

  • Instead of planning an elaborate obstacle course of fun games around the backyard, I opted for a few organized water games and liberal free time in between. We filled a kids’ pool with water and water balloons. (We bought the balloons that you can blow up in bunches and don’t have to tie). We asked kids to bring their own squirt guns. We put the sprinkler under the trampoline. We set up the Slip-N-Slide halfway through to add something new.
  • As for the house, I cleaned the area between the back door and the guest bathroom. And instead of laying out toys in stations around the living room, I set up a big tub of Lego body parts for any kids who might need to come in for a rest.
  • Other than scooping dog doo, I did little with the yard. Who was really going to care if my gardens were perfectly tended anyway. I opened the side gate for people to come straight to the backyard.
  • I planned a couple of mixer activities to begin with. I bought a pack of clothes pins from the dollar store, wrote each kids’ name on one, pinned it to their swimsuits, and let them run around and try to grab each other’s pin off. It was a good way for the kids to mix right up front, and it burned off a bit of their energy. Then we had an epic water-balloon fight. After that, the kids entertained themselves for the next two-plus hours while parents and grandparents sat in the shade and talked.
  • I got some take-and-bake pizzas to throw in the oven for everyone. We had brownies and ice cream for dessert, but root beer floats are an even easier option.

The day was fun — even for me. And we’re already planning a few more this summer.