It must be true that the older you get, the more vivid the childhood memories. At this time of year, I can easily recapture all my younger feelings and experiences of summer. Can anything equal that delirious thrill of exploding out of the school building doors on that last day of school? Behind were the confines of the classroom, the lunch line, the tedious hours of lessons. The desk was empty, its books shut forever, and ahead lay endless days of freedom, sunshine, soft breezes, and simply hours and hours to fill with uncountable possibilities.
As much as adults enjoy a break from the daily grind, I think nothing equals the childhood anticipation and delight in unplanned days stretching out ahead like a wonderland of ideas, summertime seemingly an age long for choosing pleasures: knocking on doors for friends to come out and play – ball or bike riding, or building forts together. And when they weren’t available, there were family vacations to look forward to, camping trips, picnics and cookouts, and days at the lake or pool.
And for me, of course, there was the delicious prospect of time and space in which to read to my heart’s content. Gone were the assigned reading lists and homework, and the library shelves were mine for the plundering. I remember rolling over in the morning, without the alarm clock’s rude interference, to pick up a book to read in the quiet of the morning, the birds singing vehemently outside my open window, or staying up way past the school year’s barrier of bedtime at the other end of the day, the house again silent, to read far into the night. There were rainy days for reading, and lazy hot ones for lolling in the hammock reading. I have vivid memories of drippy days in the cozy tent, the comforting patter of rain on the canvas, can still recall the scent of the sleeping bag, the campfire smoke, and my latest escapades in the pages of the book in my hands, adventures with Tom down the Mississippi, or Janie of the Moffat family, or Lucinda in the streets of New York – they were my camping buddies, my new summer friends.
My grown children readily recall their own summer reading memories: the little red wagon Emily trotted to the library to fill to the brim with her latest Carolyn Haywood books, the day she first read the Boxcar Children in an empty dishwasher box recently discarded, and her favorite spot – high in the huge backyard maple tree where I couldn’t find her, and she could avoid weeding the garden and squeeze in another chapter.
I have read a few books in recent years about the necessity of such leisure in children’s lives, Last Child in the Woods and Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, for example. As parents, we have to guard ourselves against the temptation to stuff their every waking hour with organized activities. Nothing blocks imagination like absence of room to breathe. Nothing brings on boredom like the inability to pursue our own inventions, which is often a byproduct of overly conscientious parental supervision.
And nothing encourages imagination more than hours in which to create, and that takes time too – free time. If a child is to conjure up plans, let ideas develop, he needs elbow room both in his body and his mind. How is he to find time and place for testing out all those great adventures and inspirations from stories if there is never freedom to invent and implement his own version? How is a child to find the time to even read those books if life is always packed full of get-up-and-go? And hurry, will you? – while you’re at it.
So maybe this summer the family can schedule in some undesignated, undefined time and space in the children’s’ days. Or, maybe one of the summer “activities” could be some specified hours for reading – that occupation which lamentably gets squeezed out of the busyness of modern life. Maybe, for the really daring, you could try unplugging all electronics for the summer and giving the unpracticed a list of possible places to go out of the house to explore on their own, opening wide that world we remember from our own childhoods, to renew and refresh their spirits. It still exists.
I was right about this one thing as a child for sure: there is no end of things to be done and thought and imagined when the doors were opened and the whole, long and wide summer ahead was free for the taking.
Featured Image by Paul Boekell