Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Lazy Days of Summer
As school ends, so summer begins.   The melancholy of endings meets with the thrill of beginnings.  Parents excited to be freed of carpools soon confronted with camp schedules and fees.  Discussions of academic "slides" drive summer school classes and enrichment programs.  These days it seems summers are less about popsicles and more about catch up or gain a leg up.

What I remember most about the summers of my "retro" youth was how long the days were.  They were not packed with activities or rewards they were I Love Lucy reruns and imaginary war games at the creek behind the carport.  They were alive with the smells of freedom- grass growing, laundry churning, play dough and Jiffy Pop on the stove.  A walk to the market for a candy bar was an adventure.

I was a latch key kid.  My single mom worked long hours and didn't have the resources to entertain but left to my own devices I did a fine job of amusing myself.  When I think about summer I most fondly remember that stack of library books in the front basket of my bike.  Each week I would ride my bike to A K Smiley Library, navigating sidewalks with no handicap cuts.  The AK Smiley library was like a church, old and scented with paper and oiled wood.  It was cool against the Southern California roasting summer.  It's stained glass windows illuminated rows of well used tomes.  I would return my 13 books, you were only allowed 13 a week, and begin shopping for my next week's entertainment.  No one determined the outcome, there was no required reading list but my own.  One summer I chose authors by the first letter of their last name.  I started at A and finished the summer at C.  

Like my mother and my grandmother before me I look back and see a simpler time.  Even as a mother I see that my grown children had a simpler life than the children of today, but risk of sounding like all the crones that have come before me there is something lovely about "simpler".  My childhood was not without dangers, but having the freedom of alone,  taught me self-reliance and creativity.  When I look back at my summers and think about a 10 year old girl playing pretend games next to a beer bottle laden creek bed surrounded by high bamboo through the filters of today's headlines I shutter.  But when I remember being that little girl I WAS a french spy playing out the heroic war movies that played in the afternoons on our black and white television.  The only danger I felt was that I would be captured by the boys from apartment 4 B.  I remember it took hours to finish our imaginary games.  It is probably not an accident that many of our greatest filmmakers come from small rural towns, they come from childhoods with lots of unstructured time that they craft with imagination.

So as you plan your children's summer.  Please make space for nothing.  Lots and lots of nothing.  Because from nothing comes something.  And that something may very well be a gift to us all.

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