When I write June, I might as well write summer, they are so interconnected. School finishes and a long stretch of empty days awaits. Expectations abound. And there is no shortage of images: family car trips with everyone playing iSpy, trips to the beach, hikes in the woods, craft projects, swimming and tennis lessons, themed day-camps, long stretches for reading, games of badminton, chasing lightning bugs, lazy afternoons staring at clouds and lazy evenings staring at the stars. It is a time for recreation, respite and renewal.
June’s sunshine, the long days and the warm weather, gave me hopeful optimism. I looked forward to having the kids home, putting away the school uniforms, the soccer cleats, and having a change of pace. Of course, there was that week or so of transition after school finishes; those days held a sibling squabble or two as the kids re-adjusted to being constantly together after an academic year of school rules and friends’ faces. And adjusting to the ever-changing summer schedule that might include early morning swim lessons one week, afternoon drama camp the next, and family vacation the following was no simple task. But it an easy exchange for the myriad of possibilities that lay ahead.
I look back on our years in Ohio as a time of continually learning to balance our family time with our friends and our community involvement. The time and space that summer offered helped me define my parenting principles. I learned I am vigilant when it comes to water, firm about good manners, attentive to routine and wary of neglectful parenting. It was a time to take a break from some friends and build deeper relationships with others. It was an opportunity to steer clear of adults whose parenting style didn’t align with mine and as the kids grew older it was a good break from the drama in some of their peer relationships.
When we moved to North Carolina in July,1996 I realized the opportunity for family building that summer offered. No friends in a new area of the country gave us intense togetherness. There was a sadness for what was left behind, but mostly, it was a time of adventure-new towns to visit, new woods to walk, and new bugs to discover. One of my favorite catch phrases began that summer. The kids would ask as we headed off in the car “where are we goin’?” and I would reply, “Crazy, wanna come?”Together we explored UNC’s Morehead Observatory, the Chapel Hill library, Duke Gardens, Raleigh’s Science Center or other destinations I thought might entertain and educate. While we learned moving survival skills-navigating the area, organizing the house, making introductions to neighbors-we also learned that we enjoyed each other and we liked each other. And I realized that I liked overseeing the summer, playing camp counselor to my kids just like I had in my summer job after high school, but now I got to be the camp director as well.
In Kalamazoo with the kids in grade school, it was a time to be outdoors and stay outdoors. The summer after 1stgrade, Patrick biked the entire 23 mile Kal-Haven trail. His only whining came when he feared that I might make him quit at the half-way point. When we reached the beach, and tossed our bikes on the sand to jump into Lake Michigan, he was stronger and taller than I had ever seen him. Accomplishment helped him grow physically, mentally, and emotionally. That lesson was reinforced regularly our first summer in Kalamazoo. The kids learned several outdoor skills: how to build a fire, bait a hook and shoot an air rifle. That last one was taught by my 65-year-old neighbor, Harriet. There were lots of simple days filled with kick ball games in the cul-de-sac, playing on the swing set and running through the sprinkler. I gave them independence as was appropriate for their age. Mary Kate remembers the day she and a pal rode every street in our neighborhood and ended their adventure at the ice cream shop. Patrick will tell of getting his choice of haircut the first day of summer, generally a buzz. And five-year-old Meg cheers at the memory of being able to walk by herself to her friend’s house down the street.
It was during those Michigan summers when we began family read alouds. A favorite activity for a rainy day or a very hot day was to gather in the living room, where I sat in a comfy armchair reading aloud while the kids lounged on the couch or played with toys. When I hear the noise of rummaging through a lego box searching for the right size brick, I think of The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler or Bud, Not Buddy, orA Year Down Yonder. And summer often meant a new Harry Potter book. We bought the book immediately and it was a family read aloud, all day and the following days, until it was finished. The challenge was how to read it fast but make it last. Everyone attended a camp or two over the years. I wanted them to try new things, especially in art and drama which didn’t come easily to me and were more effort than I could muster.
Summer, also, gave the opportunity to be single focused on something. It could be anything. I discovered this after the fact, at one of Patrick’s soccer matches in the fall of 2002 when he was chosen to take a penalty kick. A fellow parent standing next to me probed, asking if he had ever practiced PKs. I assured him that Patrick was ready and the moment after Patrick drilled the ball into the upper right corner of the goal, I explained that during the past summer, Patrick had spent hour after hour, day after day, week after week, working on and perfecting his PKs. We spent that summer living outside London and our back garden was perfect for a 12-year-old boy, a ball and homemade goals. He didn’t have the comfort of his belongings at home but he had a soccer ball, so he made do and spent his time when at home, rain and shine, in the back garden working on his soccer skills.
Finally, when they complain about being bored, Cheer. It is only after boredom that creativity happens. That is when the real fun begins!
much love each and every day,