Here’s the ultimate question: what do you remember most about your summers as a child?
Is it being chauffeured around town from one organized activity to the next? Did you spend an hour every day doing school packets for extra credit on the first day back? Did you get a couple hours at the park while Mom watched near-by lest anything happen?
If you’re my age, or born anytime before the mid to late 1980s, then probably not. Maybe you did do Little League or went on a scouting camp out, but you probably didn’t have a new activity to do every single day, the rest of the time spent supervised by an adult.
She says, ” I am done with all the forced smile-inducing, uber planned and supervised, over-the-top summer life experiences I am supposed to provide for my kids.” [her emphasis]
I hear ya, Melissa. Although I was just a baby at the end of the 1970s, I strive to give my kids the kind of summers I had in the 80s/90s. Her top 10 list matches mine pretty darn close. I’ll let her explain:
1 . Let them watch TV. Plenty of it. But only the TV Land channel. I want my kids to watch The Love Boat, The Carol Burnett Show, The Jefferson’s, Charlie’s Angels, My Three Sons, The Bionic Man, $100,000 Pyramid, and my favorite, Hart to Hart. Seriously, what little girl in the late 70’s didn’t want to be an amateur detective married to the CEO of Hart Industries, driving around in a yellow Mercedes-Benz SL Roadstar, while sporting a matching lilac pant suit and perfectly quaffed butterfly winged wavy brown hair?
I don’t understand what people have against TV. I like TV. My kids like TV. Okay, so too much TV is bad because then you get fat (like me), but spending the morning vegging out to cartoons, or the hottest part of the day lying in front of a fan to watch something off of HUB sounds good to me. My kids favorite pick: Full House. They’ve also taken to watching Friends and a few other favorites from my childhood along with the new stuff Disney puts out.
2. Eat whatever you want, and/or whatever can find. There will be no more pantries full of organic vegetable chips, and non-GMO graham crackers. No more refrigerators full of anti-pesticide fruit, free range eggs, and cold pressed juice. This will be the summer of Frito-Lay and Red Dye #5. I want to see my kid’s reaction when I tear open a tiny envelope of cherry Kool-Aid, sprinkle it into a BPA laden plastic pitcher, dump 4 cups of regular, granulated, white, and maybe even generic sugar (not raw, stevia, or agave,) then add water from the tap, and viola! You are hydrated! I will be over here drinking a Tab. Lunch will be fried bologna and a blue can of Planter’s Cheese Balls, and for dinner we will pile in the car and go pick up a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, a styrofoam quart of mashed potatoes, and OMG, dessert will be pineapple upside cake! Made from canned pineapples in…wait for it…syrup!
Oh, how I wish I could let them do this kind of thing, but when you’re poor and hoping your application for foodstamps goes through there is no option to let them eat whatever they want all day long. We try to keep all sorts of fresh fruit in the house, but with five kids it doesn’t last more than a few days, then it’s gone until the next disability check two weeks later. But hot dogs and Kraft mac & cheese is a staple.
3. Make them play outside. Like all day. All. Damn. Day. Hot? Drink from the hose. Run through the sprinklers. Swim in the pool until your hair feels like straw, turns green, and the bottom of your feet are calloused from the bottom of the pool. Search for ladybugs, play hide ‘n seek between the houses, run down the street gutters after a rain storm. Read under a tree. I hear this lady named Judy Blume writes good stuff.
This is a mainstay in our home. If it’s nice outside, you better be out enjoying it. I tend to sleep in until nine or ten in the morning, but as soon as I’m up their butts better be outside. I’ve even locked the door to keep them from coming back into complain–if you’re thirsty there’s a hose; you have a ball, kick it around; you have bikes, go explore; sit there and pout for all I care, just do it outside. Come back when it’s dark.
4. Send them to the movies for the entire day. I will drop you off at around 11 and pick you up for dinner. Its’ real simple. You sneak from one theater to the next. Nobody cares.
My older kids have been doing this a couple years via bus. They usually bum the money off of a friend then ride the two buses over nearly two hours to get to the mall. They don’t sneak into other movies because I don’t think they could get away with that like when we were kids. They do sneak in their own snacks and drinks because who wants to pay $5 for a box of candy you can get at the dollar store for $1.
5. Spend three nights in a row at your best friend’s house. No, you don’t have to call to check in every hour. And yes, it’s totally ok their parents will be at work and nobody will be home all day. It will give you plenty of time for #1, 2, and 3.
Only three nights? Take them for a week, please. Depending on the kid that’s how it works. My middle daughter gets invited to go on week long campouts with her friend–don’t forget the bug spray! My oldest spent half the summer in Chicago visiting her
best friend grandfather. I’d send her back this year, but we don’t have the money. I don’t expect check-ins. My theory is “no news is good news.”
6. Make stuff, like from stuff you find. No trips to Hobby Lobby for pre-cut, pre-stuck, pre-fabricated crafts. Find crap in the garage and assemble it into something you can play with. No, you can’t Google how to do it. Ropes are fun.
I remember doing this with my brother, although my dad did buy us a woodworking kit that came with a real hand saw, kid sized hammer, lots of wood, glue, nails and other random things. I guess we were supposed to build a bird house out of it. Pfff. We had more fun just cutting the wood up and nailing it together with things we found around the neighborhood.
7. Have them put on a talent show. A real, genuine, sing and dance and entertain the hell out of me talent show. I promise I won’t upload it to Youtube or share it on Facebook. I pinky swear. No, there is no theme, no requirements, no directions, no anything. No, there is no right way to do it. You have an imagination. Please use it.
I’m not sure I could get my kids to do this, nor did I ever do it as a kid. When they were much younger I found them having a talent contest, a la American Idol, with a bunch of other kids. They were having a great time until they noticed me watching then everyone got shy all of a sudden.
8. Play the old Simon game until you want to throw it against the wall, or smash into 1,000 pieces. It’s the original train your brain app.
Well, we don’t have a Simon game, but we do have a Super Nintendo that I hooked up a couple months ago. The kids are addicted to it, especially my almost four-year-old. He’s pretty darn good, too. We also have an xbox 360, a Wii, and like a million Nintendo DSs, but they’d rather play the Super Nintendo. Old School for the WIN!
9. Build a fort in the backyard. No, I am not gonna help. Yes, you can use the $125 Pottery Barn Kids duvet cover from your bed. I don’t care anymore. Making a memory trumps 400 thread count cotton.
I remember doing this, too, but hell if I’ll let them use expensive bedding. We have blankets used for the outdoors for that crap. We also rent so we can’t do too much in our yard, but I’ve heard they’ve built forts at other friends’ houses.
10. Finally, learn to find the amazing in the ordinary. Trust me. You will need this skill in your 40’s. I pinky swear.
Best advice ever.
My childhood was very much like this despite living in an impoverished neighborhood in Chicago. We live in a quiet little town now in an area that is pro-free-range. There’s never less than a dozen kids running around the streets, on bikes, scooters, or skateboards. They hang at the playground, walk the mile to Safeway to spend whatever change they’ve stolen from my change dish. Occasionally they go the two miles into town to get ice cream or check out the library. They ride their bikes to another park nearby that has access to the river to cool off.
If they can catch a ride they go to the local swimming hole on the river. If they can’t find a ride they walk or ride the two or so miles there sans parents. They come back sunburned, sandy, and with huge smiles on their faces.
Living in a relatively safe town makes some things possible that I never could have experienced like our end of year tradition of camping out in the back yard. We have a massive 10-12 person tent. And every year I reluctantly set it up on the last day of school. They get whatever friends they can to come over and they all crash out there-boys, girls, middle schoolers, preschoolers, whatever. They eat candy, drink pop, and curl up into piles like little kittens. The tent stays up for a week (otherwise the lawn dies) and goes back up the weekend before the first day of school for the end-of-summer campout.
I can’t imagine a better summer, no, a better childhood than the one they are getting here. And maybe I can’t afford bags of chips to pig out on, but I can handle some Kool-Aid and homemade popsicles.
Oh yeah, better stock up on the bandaids now.