I remember summer vacation as a long period of endless time to run around outside, until the fireflies came out and the street lights came on.
Having moved a couple times, the particular activities changed, but for the most part, my brother and I roamed the streets with our friends just until it started to get dark. Our earliest summers were spent playing hide-and-seek, riding our bikes, and catching crayfish and tadpoles in what I don’t think was even an actual stream, but more a viaduct connecting two ponds of water (now as an adult, I shiver to think what else was in the water along with our barefeet). We spent one summer with my uncle and aunt who lived in the city. We ran up and down and around the block, playing on the sidewalk and in the little playground behind the row of houses. To go any further, we had to wait for our older cousins. When they showed up, it meant we could go to the candy store. In the meantime, we listened for that familiar tinkle of the bells on the red truck coming down the street. Then we would run inside and beg whatever adult was home for a few quarters to get a sno-ball or a pack of sunflower seeds.
The rest of our childhood summers were spent out in the county (save for one that we spent in S. Korea). We didn’t have to wait on our cousins, but there also weren’t as frequent ice cream trucks, either. We ran around with our neighbors, visited school friends, and walked to the library. We could ride our bikes as far as we lasted, often traveling miles away to other friends’ houses or just wandering.
In the care-free-ness of summer, we explored our small world and filled up our days. We might pass the time building a fort in the woods or lounging on the steps reading a book. All without our parents telling us what we should get from the experience or suggesting what we should do next. We had to actually depend on our own creativity to figure out our day. Or be bored. And boredom, sometimes isn’t so bad.
Its that freedom of the summer that I want my kids to get, now that school is out. Granted, their days have a little bit more structure to them, with swim team practice and basketball league, and of course, those summer workbooks. But other than those couple hours a day, they have the rest of the day to do with what they want.
As kids, our mother hardly ever asked where my brother and I had been as long as we were back home by the time she started looking for us. I know, that’s outrageous for a parent of a 12-year old and 10-year old to do now, right? But. Today, I have allowed such a thing. My girls wanted to go bike-riding and I couldn’t accompany them, so I gave them a few rules – stay on this side of the busy street, ride on the sidewalk when on the busy street, stay together. And I’m trusting that they will come back, tired and excited from their adventure. The 8 and 6-year old are playing outside with a school friend. They are climbing in the playhouse and seem to be doing just fine.
Its only the third day of summer vacation. Here’s to 70 more with nothing to do.