Summertime and the livin’ is easy

I think every kid needs a long summer break from school. When we were kids, as soon as the school year ended, we launched a relentless campaign to move out to the cabin. It was about a 15 minute drive from our house in town to the cabin and Grandroobly could easily drive in to the bank every day. The Commander usually gave in pretty quickly and issued us each a bushel basket to pack our clothes in. She loaded up the car with us and our bushel baskets and the dog and the kitchen stuff and off we went for a long summer of beach living. Beach living that more often than not, especially in June, meant an un-summer-like 45 degree temperature, driving rain, and gale-force winds. But who cared? It was summertime and the livin’ is easy. Roight?

We could swim just about whenever we wanted to. Every mom on the beach was ready to drop just about anything to go sit on the beach and watch us. Even if she had to wear a winter coat to stay warm. We built log forts on the beach and dug to China and engineered elaborate damn (oops) dam systems on the stream and made cigar box troll houses and created elaborate clubs with merit badges and bratty enemy cliques and the whole works. We walked to Doelle’s and went on peanut butter sandwich picnic expotitions to Birch or Cedar Point or the Back Light or even Round Island. Did we ever get bored? We sure did. I don’t think that’s always a bad thing.

We always like to say there was only one rule at the cabin, which was DON’T THROW SAND! As memorable as that rule was — and it still stands, so DO NOT THROW SAND — it wasn’t really the only one. But our rules prohibited activities that were truly a matter of life and death. Don’t go swimming unless you get an adult to watch you. Or you could drown. And you *could* drown! Don’t go across the road into the swamp. You might get lost forever. And you *could* get lost forever! Our land went back a long way for a little kid and it was rough, buggy, wetland terrain. With bears and lynxes and cougars. (Oh my!) We learned those rules early and didn’t question them.

I think kids need time to explore and create and daydream and read and run wild with their cousins. After a summer of doing just about whatever I wanted to do, I never felt like I had lost academic ground when school started in the fall. As much as we hated leaving the beach, there was also something fun and exciting about moving back to town and starting school again. The next grade, new school supplies, a clean, organized desk, our bikes, the school playground, and town friends. Boredom set in quickly enough with the 4-6 weeks of “review” that began every school year.

I think things are different now. There are a lot of families for whom a long summer break means lining up a string of camps. Day camps of all description and sleepover camps, with one of those fun-filled family vacations thrown into the middle of it all. You know the kind. The car breaks down, the kids get sick, and the dog runs away. Kids are on the go all summer. No down time. I know this because of the incessant questions I used to get from theatre camp parents. Can I drop my kid off early? Can I pick my kid up late? Well, why *don’t* you have before and after camp care? Can you arrange a carpool for my kid? Can you pick my kid up? No. No. No. No. Triple no!!! And then, once the camp began, there would be the kids who had to miss the final performance because they were leaving for horse camp or Disney World or France. “Oops, we forgot to check the calendar.” Kee-reist! Who in their right mind would want to go to Disney World in the *summer*?

And then there are the inner city kids for whom camp and fun-filled family vacations are usually out of reach. I guess most of them have a lot of freedom too. But it is probably not spent swimming, at least not on an isolated beach with somebody’s mom sitting there watching in a winter jacket. And what kinds of activities are available in that environment? Selling drugs? Stealing candy from the corner store? Hanging around with gangs? Am I exaggerating? I don’t know. It’s almost unfathomable to me that so many kids grow up with so little chance to experience the great outdoors. I’ve known kids from The Planet Ann Arbor, not the inner city by a long shot, who were so unfamiliar with the woods that they were afraid of bears at girl scout camp, which is 30 miles north of megalopolis just a couple miles off the freeway. Bears? Possums and skunks maybe. But I have those in my back yard.

I don’t know what I think. Maybe some version of year-round school might be better for some kids. Either those with too much to do or those with too little to do in a questionable environment. We were *not* wealthy when I was a kid. We were *lucky* to have a beach to spend the summer at. It wasn’t as easy for me to give my kids the same experiences I had when I was a kid. My job was five hours away and I managed to work up to a three week vacation after 10 years. I tried my best to take my kids to the beach for as much time as I could possibly manage. To swim and explore and daydream and run wild with their cousins. I know it’s not that easy for all kids to do. I wish that all kids had more time to run and dream.

Thanks to The Marquis, who should really get his own blahg, for bringing up this topic on his email chat group a while back.

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