The Summer Conundrum
My, how times have changed.
I grew up in a small town in rural Pennsylvania in the ’70s, where my summer entertainment options included 1) riding my bike to a friend’s house, 2) roaming with neighborhood kids or 3) fighting with my siblings, including occasionally inflicting physical and mental anguish. The days were long and hot as there was no air conditioning and, until I landed my first summer job at age 15, were largely filled with whatever I could come up with to put into them.
It was wonderful. I slept in until at least 9 o’clock and, upon waking, poured a bowl of cereal unsupervised (with working parents, we fended for ourselves, and my closest sibling was five years older and often doing his own thing), brushed my teeth and headed out to see what kind of trouble I could get into.
Walking to the neighborhood cemetery and running around the faded, 1800s headstones was always a favorite, as was testing our legs’ pedaling limits on up to 20-mile bike rides before exploring friends’ pantries to see which parents were most superbly skilled at grocery shopping (i.e., highest sugar content). The days were long and hot, and our neighborhood pack often arrived home dirty and exhausted.
When I was around 12 or so, we received our first Atari, so outside time diminished somewhat to the lure of the joystick-to-screen titillation, but we quickly got bored, fought over what game to play or ended up with numb rear ends, so the great outdoors again became the playground of choice. Lunches were often skipped in lieu of candy bars purchased with quarters at the local convenience store (the days where calories were not a concern are long gone, and sorely missed).
The only calls received were parents leaning out the back door yelling, “DINNNERRRRRRRRRRR!” at the top of their lungs and hoping that the bellow would reach the ears of the appropriate offspring. Said dinners were often wolfed down at breakneck speed before plopping in front of the family television, which in our case was a small, rotary-dial boob tube for which my siblings and I served as Dad’s “remote control” until he fell asleep in the recliner that kids were never allowed to occupy until he was upstairs in bed.
TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY SUMMERS
Reminiscing on those seemingly boundary-free days (likely romanticized with the passing of many years) and pivoting to summer plans for my 10-, 12- and 15-year-olds is enough polarization to cause whiplash. Summer options in 2017 are splashed in an avalanche of summer camp flyers, online ads and mail promising highly recommended educational enrichment, sports skill enhancement, arts and drama, all designed to ensure a well-rounded child.
There’s a screen of invisible yet clearly felt parental pressure to spend thousands of dollars on sleep-away and all-day camps promising to return home an independent, well-rounded young person ready to take on the world, or least middle and high school. Pack in as many as you can! Book your spot early as spaces fill up! (Many truly do, as some are very competitive.) Don’t waste a second of summer lounging when you could be ensuring your child’s future success!
Has my generation of moms and dads succumbed to the pressure of the modern-day parenting summer conundrum? I’ll admit that to a degree we have, and truly, it’s not all bad. All of our kids have had the experience of immersion in an overnight camp or a tech or drama day camp; and while they haven’t returned magically transformed and ready for Princeton, they have been exposed to new friends, a bit of learning and a glimmer of independence.
Is there a compelling need to schedule every moment of their 12 school-free weeks of summer in an organized camp, in hopes that they will receive the college offer of their future heart’s desire? Heck, no. We’ll spend plenty of days hanging out at the neighborhood pool, hanging with grandparents and friends in town and at the river, playing cards and board games and taking an occasional trip to a local theme park.
The way I see it, kids have the rest of their lives to live hyper-scheduled, calendar-driven lives, using the downtime they have today to explore their own interests, books and friends – even, gasp, the great outdoors! With a little structure and a lot of time to dawdle and dream, hopefully they’ll turn out just fine.
BOOMER columnist Kate W. Hall, a consultant at a large financial firm in Richmond, is the founder of the Richmondmom.com blog, wife, mother of three kids and writer of two children’s books, Richmond Rocks and its Spooky Sequel.