I know summer is coming, not just because Memorial Day is Monday, but because of the high hopes which are setting in.
The older my four children get, 14 down to 7 this summer, the more I have high hopes for summer with them: That this is the summer they will read a certain number of classic books, be committed to a regular schedule for chores, piano practice, sports, we’ll have consistent and productive family time together, some time away (every detail thoroughly planned out in advance of course), they will grow personally and spiritually, this is the summer they will get along better, in short we’ll have the best summer ever.
And I’m more laid back than a lot of parents I know.
Still, a few days ago, I had a chance to reconnect with my two dearest childhood friends, Virginia and Sheila. (We grew up in Arlington Heights, Ill.) Funny, it occurred to me later — our parents had no high hopes for our summers! Or rather, they did, but the high hopes were essentially that we would leave them alone.
And Virginia, Sheila and I had incredibly wonderful summers.
We well remembered rolling out of bed when it suited us, doing actual chores unknown to our kids today — cutting the grass with a manual push mower, for instance — and then disappearing for the day, often without bothering to check in with our moms for hours at a time. We spent summer after summer climbing trees, going to the pool most days, even at 8 or 9, without our moms in tow. In fact, we rode our bikes the half-mile or each way, and forget helmets, holding on to the bike’s handlebars was considered dopey.
We had our club meetings, built forts, had lots of fights, got into mischief at the local Kresgee five-and-dime by playing with the hoola hoops until management would tell us to go home, played four-square in the street ( pausing to let cars go by) and had sleepovers it seemed almost every night.
Vacations? Money permitting, my parents might toss together a last-minute week at a lake house. I remember some sort of a day camp for a week or two one year. But achievement camps, computer, math, etc., were unknown.
Oh wait, here was one productive thing: For three of our summers during junior high, we girls ran the Busy Bee Nursery School out of my garage for a few weeks each summer. For some incredibly low rate, we essentially babysat dozens of neighborhood kids at a time, with crafts, trips to the park, etc.
I’m only assuming that the “unlicensed facility” and the child/junior high-kid ratio would today lead to various arrests, but at the time it seemed like a good idea. (What was my own mother thinking? No one was exactly signing any liability wavers.)
Anyway, I handled the business end of things. Instead of cookies for a snack, I bought big boxes of cheap cookie-like cereal. When the kids complained, “this is cereal!” We said “no, it isn’t, those are just small cookies!”
Maybe that’s why one summer I could afford to buy a ten-speed bike with the Busy Bee proceeds.
Anyway, as much I tell my children I’m not the entertainment committee, as much as I try to keep our summers simple (if productive), I still too often feel like Julie the Cruise Director, and I know I’m not living on any “Love Boat.”
I know, I know, times are different and all that, so I may not be able to bring back those summers of more than 30 years ago for my own kids. But whatever happens or doesn’t this summer with my “plans” for my children, I can take some comfort in realizing that my completely unstructured summers were, I think now, incredibly productive in just being a kid — and sometimes you have to be a grown-up to realize that counts for a lot.
(Betsy Hart hosts the “It Takes a Parent” radio show on WYLL-AM 1160 in Chicago. Reach her through betsysblog.com.)