June 2008
Hello, Summer. Hello, You.

by Annie Fox, M.Ed

summer [is]… a gateway to the land of ‘Who Knows Where Until You’re There.’

I joined the line of cars stopped at the only traffic light in my neighborhood. It’s a long one in this direction and as I absently gazed down a side street I spotted the girl on the swing. Smiling, I recalled the freedom of having sunny days all to myself, with no particular place to go.

Disk swingFor me, summer has always been more than a season. It’s a gateway to the land of “Who Knows Where Until You’re There.”

When I was a kid, summer was magical. Thanks to the benign neglect of my parents, I had weeks on end to decide how to spend my own time. Unlike school, where time is measured and prescribed and dictated by bells, summer days were radiant with possibilities. Want to eat cornflakes out under the mimosa tree? Why not? How about hanging out with 4 years worth of Mad Magazines? Go for it! And when I needed a real adventure, I hopped on my bike. Sometimes I headed for a friend’s house or to the children’s library. Other days, I just rode. When something intriguing crossed my path, like a home under construction or a tree enshrouded with tent caterpillar cocoons, I investigated, staying as long as I pleased. I was on my own.

Summer always ended, but that newly minted self-reliance stayed with me. And year after year, I used those summer experiences to grow a strong inner self that’s become the essence of who I am today. June, July and August hold this potential for every kid, provided (s)he has the freedom and enough time without a whole lot of other stuff to do.

Curious about what childhood summers meant to others, I put out the word to friends and family and here are some of the memories they shared:

Childhood Summer Memories

  • “The rule we had in our family was that it was FORBIDDEN to say the “S” word until the day before school. No buying school clothes and supplies and wasting the precious long days of August at the mall.” 
  • Fantasy boating - Photo by David Fox“My sister and I went to stay with my grandmother in Hawaii. She spent hours cleaning the already clean kitchen counters with Lysol, then taking us to educational places in Honolulu. When she said we’d go to Waikiki I was so happy. Walking down the beach, who was walking up toward us but my father! I ran to him and hugged him so hard and from then on, it was catamarans, tropical fruit drinks at sunset under banyan trees, surfing on a long board with a really good Hawaiian surf coach (he told me that if I fell down the coral would rip me, so I never fell down). It was glorious soaring over the water. From then on, whenever life seemed lonely, like when I was new at college, I thought of places my dad might show up to surprise me, and it seemed like he was there.”
  • “The trips to Rockaway Beach! Where as my father would sing “Why go to Miami down south when you can get the same sand in your mouth on Coney Island.” There were waves, my mother doing a lazy back stroke, cone towers of sand with spiral paths to roll your tennis ball down. Warm knishes from the boardwalk. Sometimes a game or two of Skeeball. Even today the smell of Coppertone sends me back to warm sunny days.”
  • “From the age of 6 to 14, in December of every year we children were all piled onto a train at Johannesburg Station, a journey of two nights and a day, from an elevation of 6,000 ft down to the sea. A distance of 1,000 miles! Once at Slow - Kids at Playour destination we all formed into groups and went in search of our tents, pitched amongst the trees in cool, deep yellow sea sand. The perimeter of the campsite was fringed by glorious red and orange Australian flowering gum trees. For three weeks there were hikes up mountains, trips down to the beach to swim, play ball, fish or paddle in the rock pools. We took bus trips to the magnificent Cape Dutch mansions with their encircling vineyards. After dinner there were talent contests in the huge mess tent. Enveloped in the velvet darkness with the Southern Hemisphere’s stars blazing above, we had campfire singsongs and afterwards lined up for hot cocoa. Bonds of friendship formed during exciting adventures, daredevil scrapes and pranks have, in many cases. lasted a lifetime.”
  • “While I remember the excitement of going to Hershey Park or Virginia Beach, what sticks out most in my mind is the driving. My brother read out loud from a “Choose-Your-Own-Adventure” book and let me to make the choices. I was 8 and he was 11 and we were at an age where we were fighting all the time, so the fact he wanted to include me in this activity made me feel really special. DVD players and video iPods are now required for long car trips, and I have wondered if something is lost. Sure the technology keeps the kids from fighting but it also stops them from interacting with each other.”

Sidewalk chalk drawingTwenty-first century childhoods are different from ours. Yet, summer still has the power to inspire dreaming. Our kids carry a lot on their shoulders and in their psyches. They need down time this summer. I’m guessing you might need it too. I’m not suggesting that everyone needs 10 weeks of “just do your own thing,” but a balance of structured and unstructured time is healthy. They don’t get much of the latter from September to June, so if not now, when?

Why not try taking it a little easier this summer and encourage your kids to do the same? When we slow down, and have no particular place to go, we meet new parts of ourselves.

In friendship,

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