I still get insanely excited about summer. Do you? It’s the already-warm mornings, the smell of chlorine, the relaxed potential of each day smiling wide before me. Age has done nothing to dim my appreciation of June, July and August. We had a cold, windy spring and just this last week, summer showed up. Warmish-hot, lemon sun, green grass perfection. Best idea Mother Nature ever had: summer.
Do you remember summer mornings when you were a kid? Cold milk poured over a bowl of heavily sugared Wheat Chex, eaten at a cluttered kitchen table beneath a shaft of quiet sun, will always spell summer mornings for me. Barefoot in my “nightgown” (Dad’s T-shirt), I read Dear Abby and chomped my cereal while soaking up the morning light, listening to a distant lawnmower rumble and a nearby sprinkler hiss. The smallish houses in our busy neighborhood stood closely together and boasted lots of kids, making for–what I still believe to be–the optimal childhood summer experience.
What does the optimal childhood summer experience look like nowadays? Volleyball camp, swim team, Disneyland?
Those are all okay.
But they can’t compare to:
the early morning paper route I shared with my older sister (fun in a weird way–are you reading this, Julie?), fighting ferociously with my younger sister in battles that lasted for days (fun in a weird way–are you reading this, Jaimy?) sleeping on the trampoline, racing bikes with my neighborhood “gang,” walking the formidable half-mile to Ron’s on a quest for an immoral amount of candy with said paper route salary (are you reading this, Giana?); marathon monopoly games in which my older and sneakier brother shamelessly cheated his way to victory (are you reading this, Doug?), and, of course, my annual summer birthday party. An aside about the birthday party: This was a serious bash. I invited every girl my age from here to eternity for water balloon fights, treasure hunts, limbo/lip sync/dance contests, cake, ice cream, popsicles and Nacho Cheese Doritos (rare, precious treat!), all followed up by multiple viewings of Annie, courtesy of the huge “video disc player” my parents so generously rented for the event (are you reading this, Sarah? Teri? Teri Jo?)
I have a rare photo taken at one of these parties. I believe it is my tenth birthday. I am standing in front of our kitchen table, which is piled high with gifts and loose, crinkled wrapping, ribbons and cards and small paper plates full of mashed, half-eaten cake (once the frosting was gone, really, what was the point?) I am wearing a red plastic visor with white-trimming that is bedecked with small bulbs that lit up in multiple colors on the headband, thanks to a D battery “hidden” by velcro in the back. Think Lite Brite across the forehead. Not kidding. (Who got me that gift, anyway? One fine friend, that’s all I know.) In the picture I am sunburned and chubby-cheeked and stringy-haired, due to a grown-out Ogilvie Home Perm and too much time water ballooning. I wear a flowered nightgown, a huge smile, and a mantle of serious BFFs.
I wasted a lot of time in those summer months of my youth: swimming (unsupervised) at the public pool, riding my bike (unsupervised) all over town, producing “plays” with my sisters (Mom and Dad were a patient audience.) Marathon latch-hooking sessions on the front porch (don’t pretend you didn’t do it too.) Morning lineup of Price is Right, Press Your Luck, Young and the Restless, and Days of Our Lives, primetime lineup of Silver Spoons, Dukes of Hazard, Love Boat, and Fantasy Island (definitely unsupervised), Nick at Nite lineup of I Married Joan, My Three Sons, Bachelor Father, and I Love Lucy (highly unsupervised; my parents thought we were asleep from 10pm-2 am every night for three months. it was awesome.) “Cooking shows” wherein my sisters and I would make Hamburger Helper and Jiffy muffins for a pretend audience, talking to the “camera” with heavy accents while whipping up “Noodles a la Beef” and “Blueberry a la Tarts.” Surprising my parents with a “restaurant” when they walked in the door from work, wherein we’d serve the aforementioned Fancy Food with scrolly menus on a candlelit table we’d pushed into the living room. As they ate, I’d play Lavender’s Blue on the old upright piano while my sister lay on her side atop the instrument in my mom’s silky bathrobe and high heels, singing with all the bravado her preteen shyness would allow.
Yep, a lot of time wasted during those childhood summers. Today’s tiger mothers would be appalled. Think of all the talents I could have been developing during those mindless hours. Ah, misspent youth.
Now it is my children’s turn to experience their own tender summers. Once again, they’ve been given a dollop of extra time to learn, grow, create. How will I help them make the most of it?
I think we’ll start with Ron’s. I want to bring my children up right.