Friday, May 30, 2008

Summer Days

It is difficult for me to believe that what passes for summer today is in any way related to the summers I knew as a child. Although many of my memories are blurred around the edges, others remain pristine in their clarity and I play them out in my mind like an old home movie.

There I am, riding my bike around the neighborhood or to the park, alone. I'm probably nine. I ride my bike to my friend Neece's (pronounced like niece-y, short for Glenice) house and then we go to get a couple of other friends and soon a group of four or five girls tear through the neighborhood, pedaling as fast as we can, pretending to be Charlie's Angels or the Dukes of Hazzard.

I see a blanket of sunny days with brown-skinned arms and legs that would merit being told I was brown as a biscuit. Mornings spent helping my grandmother in her garden followed by afternoons of playing tag or shadow tag, kickball and baseball with my cousins and the other kids our age in the neighborhood. A box elder tree, mailbox, a stone, and a silver maple tree served as our bases. After lunch, we'd walk to the store where 50 cents bought a Coke and a candybar or pack of Now and Laters or a pack of candy cigarettes. The afternoons bled into evenings of running around in the yard catching lightning bugs and putting them in a mayonnaise jar with holes poked in the metal lid. Then, we'd sit on the porch and eat watermelon, spitting seeds out into the yard. Or maybe my aunt and uncle would show up and we'd pile into the car, barefoot and giggling and go to the lake where we'd grill hamburgers and skim stones as we watched the sun set.

And with the exception of helping my grandmother in the garden, or having a meal prepared for us, or interacting with the clerk at the store, or being driven somewhere, there was nary a grown-up in the picture. We were self-sufficient. And trusted. And confident and competent. Because our parents trusted us and trusted the world we lived in.

Now, at five I wasn't riding my bike through the neighborhood or walking to the store or park alone. But I was walking across the street to my friend Scotty's house. And I was playing outside for hours on end by myself. I'm sure my grandmother poked her head out once in a while to make sure I was still there, but she wasn't hovering over me, making sure I was engaged and entertained in something constructive. I didn't have a summer reading list or daily flash card time. I was free to imagine and be and create my own worlds where I was a race car driver or a mommy or a veterinarian or a doctor. I climbed trees and sang songs and chased the dog and had the opportunity to be a kid in ways I didn't always get to.

We blame video games and TV for our kids lack of activity and creativity; the rise in obesity, and all the rest of society's ills. But really? Isn't it our fault? We're the ones cowed by fear of bad things happening to our children if they're out of our sight for an instant. And we're the ones who either don't have the time or the inclination to get up and get out and do things.

I'm not saying I do. Clearly, I'm sitting here typing and sounding off on a perfectly gorgeous sunny morning. But, when I finish my coffee and Kashi, I do plan to get my boys outside today. At least for a while.

I may not be able to recreate my idealized summer, especially since school begins August 11 (thanks Mr. President for your stupid NCLB). But, I want to do my best to create some fun memories for these guys and to allow them the opportunities to make their own memories as they become capable and secure in their abilities to do so.


Aleta said...

I liked this post. You spoke volumns! Just the other day, Greg and I were outside playing with the a 3 man sling shot with the neighborhood kids. We had waterballoons and the kids would practice aiming and playing. I told Greg afterwards, "How wonderful that we did this with the kids, something outside and fun ~ away from the tv and playstation of today's world."

I also recall happy outside childhood memories of going swimming, walking to the store, climbing trees, etc.

Kel said...

It's odd to think back on our childhood memories - I remember running wild thru the neghiborhood with a bunch of kids only to check in briefly with my parents. We would spend all day outside going from place to place. Now that I'm a mother I try to get my kids outdoors but have a hard time letting them 'roam' free as I might have done. Granted there only 6 but even today they are only allowed to go in the back yard and not leave the fenced in area...never alone in the front yard or on the side of the house unless I'm out there too. My, my how times change....

Christopher Pelham said...

I think (could be wrong, not quoting statistics), that crime rates are generally down since, say, the 70's and 80's, but the perception, because of all the idiotic local tv news coverage, is that there is more violent crime. And it definitely SEEMS like there are more kid snatchings and accidental shootings, etc., more drug crime. so maybe it doesn't feel as safe to let kids run around. I lived in several different neighborhoods in several different cities, large and smaller, as a child, and with the exception of Cambridge, MA when I was 7, I could run around with other kids without adult supervision and without fear. But even in Cambridge I walked home from school with another boy. I think that getting to roam around the woods or the park was wonderful and wouldn't trade that experience for anything, and feel badly for any kids who don't get that. But then my family also went camping regularly and I was a boy scout for two years and both sets of my grandparents lived on farms. all my cousins agree it was idyllic.

ByJane said...

It's a different world, that's for sure, but it has its compensations, don't you think?

Shari Schmidt said...

It's crazy isn't it? I worry about our girls having enough to do, and having enough free time just to play. Our friend with older children have homework their children must complete BEFORE they start the new grade in the fall. When did it all get so crazy?

Tana said...

I just got home from a weekend in TN with my family at the church camp where they live. While there, my son played in dirt, rode horses, jumped on the trampoline, played in more dirt, made "chocolate" with sand, water, and more dirt, scraped his knees, and ran around the dirt. With the exception of the horses, he was supervised by older kids (and even the horses his riding helper was his 13 yr old aunt). He had more fun than I can describe, and he didn't once ask for the TV or the computer. Kudos to you for carving out playtime and making memories with your boys.