05 Jul The Value of an Unscheduled Summer
Every morning, my daughter wakes up and immediately asks, “What are we going to do today?” (She’s the curious one in the family, the one who must be in the know. My son never asks – we can be driving down the interstate, halfway to our destination, before he wonders where we’re going and what we’re doing. Their personalities could not be more different.)
Listen, I don’t fault her for wanting to know. When you’re the shortest one in the house, at the mercy of the licensed drivers and decision makers, it’s only natural to be curious about what’s coming next. But this summer, the question “what are we going to do today” has come to mean something entirely different.
And I despise it.
It means, “Mom, what fun, exciting, thrill-seeking, never-done-before activity have you spent weeks planning (and a small fortune on) for us to do?”
Here’s the thing. I don’t subscribe to the theory that my job as a mother is to make my children’s every waking moment magical. Yeah, I want them to have fun and enjoy the relaxation that summer brings, BUT. I refuse to spend every moment of my life in a carefully choreographed dance of “entertain the children” and “spend vast amounts of money on experiences they won’t really appreciate.”
I’ve got stuff to do.
Plus, I just want to lay on the couch and read a book. The children have rooms full of books and a playroom full of toys and a yard full of trees and sticks. They can invent their own fun. What ever happened to that kind of summer?
You know what I remember about being a kid? Playing capture the flag with the neighborhood kids. Hiding treasures in the knotholes of trees in our woods. Catching lightning bugs on hot summer nights. I distinctly remember roller-skating over sheets of bubble wrap on our driveway. I don’t remember my mom dressing us in expensive coordinating outfits, schlepping us to an unbelievable list of activities planned for each day.
Mom did her thing – laundry, cleaning up messes, yelling at us to close the door – and we did our thing. You know what was amazing about being a child in the ’80s? We were allowed to get bored. Our parents didn’t feel like failures if we complained there was nothing to do. They just told us to go find something. They knew the value of little humans figuring out how to entertain themselves. (They either knew it or just didn’t care that we weren’t entertained. In either case, we could learn a thing or two from our old-school parents. Their lives didn’t revolve around whether or not their offspring were content.)
Nobody back then threw a tablet in front of our faces if we started whining, nor did they meticulously arrange our enviable social lives. (Side note – they also didn’t throw a tablet or phone or any other electronic device in front of our faces if we couldn’t sit still at a meal. They took us in the bathrooms and whipped our tails and we learned to sit still at a meal. As a result, we can now eat with other human beings and have conversations like civilized people. Thank goodness there was no technology when I was a child. But I digress.)
We played in the summer. End of story. If we got bored, we figured it out. We took one big trip, if we were lucky. Our parents weren’t our cruise directors, and we’re better today for it.
My years as a high school teacher have proved to me that children who are the center of their universe and whose entertainment has been the only purpose of their lives ultimately turn out to be poorly adjusted young adults who legitimately have trouble doing anything for themselves. They struggle in relationships with adults, they struggle in relationships with peers, and they struggle in academics. Nothing about a child being the highly entertained center of his own universe is a good thing in the long run.
What’s more, if we teach children (explicitly or even accidentally) that life is only about fun, we will have a generation of people pursuing only their own desires. Sacrifice will be an antiquated idea, and hard workers will be hard to find.
This summer, we will have fun. We’ll go to the lake and go to the pool, see movies and eat icees, and we’ll take day trips and go to the beach. We’ll watch fireworks and play in the sprinkler and catch lightning bugs. But we’ll also get bored. We’ll do chores and clean the house and probably have some arguments. Summer will be fun, but it won’t just be an expensive attempt to prevent boredom. It won’t revolve solely around what the kids will find entertaining, and it won’t always look great on social media. But maybe our summer will help, in a small way, the kids be better people.