Summer legacies - FamilyEducation

Summer legacies

June 19,2008

We are two and a half weeks into summer with the kids, and L. has about five and a half weeks left before school starts up again at the end of July. Our Professor Mom Family Summer Camp is in full swing, now. This past weekend we took our first "field trip" to D.C., and the kids were able to see museums, the U.S. Capitol building (note: if you stop in front of the Capitol in your minivan because your father-in-law wants to point out a certain flagpole above the building, it will take approximately 10 seconds before an entourage of U.S. Capitol police pull up behind you, lights flashing, ready to question you as possible happy-family-in-disguise terrorist suspects), the Smithsonian castle, and the famous Mall. They rode the metro and L., armed with the metro map, was once again given the job as chief navigator. They made new friends, stayed up late, and truly experienced D.C. as only very young people can do: magic, beauty, grit and all.

We can only do so many of those big trips, though. We have very few long weekends left for us, and the next one--the 4th of July--we're staying put for L.'s birthday. We have a few day trips planned to the beach, and some local sightseeing we've been putting off, but for the most part we're working on coming up with fun, at-home activities for the children. This means lots of art, crafts, and science experiments, of course, and giving L. the chance to explore his own interests, unfettered by time and rigid schedule constraints. But even as I plan activities for the kids--trips to the library, building and launching our own balloon rockets, paper-making (!), rock collecting--I try to be mindful of not overplanning the days. L. both needs and wants a certain amount of structure to his day, yet he also fights too much of it, so it's a fine line we have to tread. I am always wary of overscheduling my children's days.

I try, every summer, to think back to my own long summers as a child. I know my parents didn't spend half the amount of time today's parents do, trying to come up with ways to fill their children's summer days. We were left on our own, for the most part, to integrate ourselves into the tasks that made up our parents' regular days--grocery shopping, errands, housecleaning (my mom used to give us kids huge rags to "ice skate" with as we polished the wood floors in the dining room), with occasional weekend day outings to the Chesapeake Bay or the local swimming pool. Summer was long, hot, and sometimes really boring. Even when my parents were able to save money for a summer in Greece with my grandparents, there were long, hot, boring days there, too. What I remember most from my childhood summers are the intangibles: the smell of jasmine coming from my grandparents' veranda, card games with my uncles, my grandmother's Sunday spaghetti, being allowed to stay up and watch old black and white movies, the smell of coffee in the morning mixing in with my grandmother's plum jam, and the sound of my friend's shoes on the stairs outside my grandparents' apartment.

I want my kids to remember summers in those ways, too. I don't want summer to whiz past them in a blur of camps and a flurry of scheduled activities, but for it to glide by slowly, the smells and the intangibles about it seeping into their skins and taking root in their memories. Summer is about being free to explore your world; it's also a little bit about being bored and restless, and about the senses and daydreams--the ones we give ourselves up to when we have time to just be.