No more pencils, no more books…no more getting up at 5:45 a.m. to harass my reluctant high schooler whose alarm clock never accomplishes its task. I’m probably happier than my kids are that today is the last day of school.
I know there are lots of working parents out there who face weeks of nightmarish juggling to keep their offspring happy, occupied and out of trouble while school is out. I respect this struggle and do not wish to make light of it. Putting this reality aside, let’s just admit right here that summer vacation is fun for all of us. The rules change, the days last forever and the weather is so much nicer than, say, November to March.
When my kids were really small, I relished my afternoons at the town beach while they splashed about, took swimming lessons and built sand cities for their matchbox cars. My daughter was especially adept at creating elaborate meals of twigs, rocks, assorted wet sand piles and popsicle sticks. This gourmet feast was often delivered on a battered Frisbee. We would enjoy ice cream pops from the concession stand, way too close to dinner time. Sometimes we would have pancakes for dinner or just a smorgasbord of leftovers from the fridge.
Now that I have only teenagers to contend with, the morning is my own because they like to sleep until lunch. I do my very best to stay in bed until at least 7:30. The dog does not understand about summer break, so he still wants to go out at the crack of dawn. My darling husband cannot deny his nature and is usually up with the sun. Still, I do my best to guard a little daily “vacation” for myself. Year-long habits are hard to break.
I didn’t realize how much I depend on the family schedule to keep me on track until one day last summer when I realized that I simply forgot to make dinner. Since the days have very little structure, meals are taken at a leisurely pace (read: any time anyone gets up and wants to eat something). As the lazy summer days blend together, I begin to Iose my grip on regularly scheduled things like garbage pick up, dry cleaning and grocery shopping. While this is not terrible, it can be inconvenient when someone is scavenging for lunch and can only find a few wilted lettuce leaves and one slice of American cheese. Sometimes we improvise and have fudgesicles.
I know that the kids really savor that first week after school is finished. They watch movies until all hours, they sleep late, they swim and snack and sleep some more. They spend a lot of time shuttling back and forth to their friends’ houses. Then, things like summer camp, family vacations and jobs begin to creep into the mix. By the time the euphoria of July 4th has passed, my kids are beginning to miss school, just a little bit. Perhaps it is the opportunity it affords them to have very regular social interaction and the general entertainment they get from their activities and scholarly pursuits.
My youngsters grumble about the homework packets they must complete each summer. I have many friends who get into serious combat with their children over these packets. Most of the time, these particular children have decided to wait until the night before school begins to complete this work. I appreciate the defense of this tactic: all of the work will be fresh in their minds and it will be easier to hit the ground running on the first day of the new school year. Their decision has absolutely nothing to do with procrastination.
On the other hand, there is the group that believes it is better to get the work done immediately after school lets out, therefore allowing for maximum leisure in the following weeks. This crowd fears they might lose some intellectual ability over the summer and therefore are best prepared for success by doing the work as if it were an extension of the waning school year.
I’m not sure either strategy is a great one. I suppose it depends on the student, the family and the gullibility of those in charge. One thing we all agree on in this house is the summer reading list. Each year we stomp off to a large bookseller, lists in hand, to do some serious shopping. One year we tried to use books from the library, but they were short a few copies and we feared for the health of one of these loaners if it went to the beach or on a plane. So, we invest in paperbacks and treat ourselves to enough reading material to last the whole summer. We do verbal book reports, and as the kids get older, we can get into some very lively discussions. For me, this is one of the very high points of summer vacation.
Since the school-year schedule is usually complete chaos, we savor the ability to enjoy dinner outdoors in the summer, often the whole family is together. Most of the time we have a few extra faces at the table, but this simply enhances the pleasure of hanging around until the fireflies show up. We play dominoes and Monopoly and I do my darndest to keep that TV dark for as long as I can.
I have such marvelous childhood memories of running around outside after dinner. We played kick the can and flashlight tag. We played kickball in the street, long after the streetlights came on and the traffic dwindled. We trapped fireflies and eavesdropped on the grown-ups sitting on the porch. We did elaborate plays and performances for our parents, hoping for a trip to the ice cream shop as our payment for a great show. Back then, there were no seatbelt laws, heck, there weren’t seatbelts in many cars. We could fit 10 kids into a VW Beetle (the original!) and manage to bring home frozen slushy drinks for those who could not squeeze in to make the five-block trip to the 7-11.
I wonder what kind of summer memories my own children are gathering. I’ll be very interested to know these things when they are old enough to look back and really appreciate the subtle pleasures along with the big pictures of family reunions and vacation trips.
Happy Summer Everyone!!!