Flashback: How I Spent My Summer Vacation

The kids went back to school last week. A few days ahead of time they started complaining.

“It can’t be time to go back to school already!”

“Summer went by way too fast!”

I felt bad for them (and no, I’m not being sarcastic). I don’t think it’s fair that at 8 and 10 years old they already feel time going by so quickly. Because when I was a kid, summers really did seem to last forever. And I don’t think I’m just being nostalgic or that it’s all relative now that I’m looking back several decades on with the realization that the older I get the faster time passes.

Part of the difference in perception, I’m sure, comes from the fact that my summers were largely unstructured. There were great swathes of time when my brother and I were left to our own devices. My mom, a stay-at-home mom like all of the other moms on our street, was there…but she certainly wasn’t there. As in guiding our days, planning our activities or participating in our fun. (My clearest summer memories of my mom are of her watching General Hospital, jarring her own apple sauce and dill pickles, enjoying a gin and tonic and reading her book, or waxing the kitchen floor with the admonition “I don’t want you back in this house until it’s dry!” I’m sure her days were much fuller than that, but really she’s just this hazy presence in the background ready to appear with peanut butter sandwiches at lunchtime.)

Nope our fun was all our own, and included hours upon hours:

  • Playing with our Legos.
  • Colouring velvet doodle posters at the picnic table in our backyard.
  • Playing Barbies with the girls next door and across the street. (That would be me, not my brother.)
  • Climbing trees.
  • Building forts with lawnchairs and blankets.
  • Putting on plays.
  • Playing board games. (A good game of Monopoly could last for days and was the one thing we didn’t have to put away at the end of the day if it was still ongoing.)
  • Riding our bikes.
  • Pool hopping from one backyard to another (I’m really not sure where the moms were while we were doing this. There were certainly no fences around the pools, no locked gates and no supervision that we were aware of. Just a dripping gaggle of sunburnt kids running with their towels to the next pool, diving in and playing Marco Polo or mermaids.)
  • Playing mini-golf.
  • Playing on the playground equipment at the school.
  • Exploring the ravine behind the school. (The only guidance we got from mom on those occasions was “Don’t fall in the river and drown” and “Watch out for the creepy guy in the trench coat.” Words to live by.)
  • Playing hide-and-seek until dark.

The only organized activities we had were swimming lessons every morning at the public pool at the end of the street (which we walked to on our own), and one sport per season (which, be it soccer or softball, we rode our bikes to on our own, with nary a parent in sight).

I’d love to be the mom who fades into the background, letting her kids do as they will while I enjoy a gin and tonic (well, OK, a glass of wine) and read my book all the lazy live-long day. But my childhood summers and theirs are just not the same.

Where my brother and I had friends up and down the street who were also around all summer, most of my kids’ friends were in daycamps week after week. This made scheduled playdates a necessity and put more pressure on me to keep them entertained with outings and activities since they often only had each other.

And where my brother and I had our freedom and our health, the girl’s diabetes keeps her tied to me for glucose checks, insulin injections, snacks, meals and treatments (at least until she’s older and more able to deal with all of that herself), making every day a logistical feat and preventing her from taking off and riding her bike, going to the park or exploring on her own.

No, they were not overscheduled with daycamps and organized sports. And yes, they played with their Legos and built forts. They coloured and played on the swing set in the backyard. But I also took them to museums and the library and the mall. And came to the rescue when they complained “We’re bored” (in retrospect, maybe more often than I should have). And made sure they ate on time.  And made it to their playdates on time.

And part of me thinks it must be that extra sense of structure and scheduling that’s to blame for making their summer go by that much more quickly than mine used to do.

I really hope their school year flies by. So we can try for a forever summer next year.

Check out Luc’s thoughts on his childhood summers.

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8 thoughts on “Flashback: How I Spent My Summer Vacation

  1. momtimes4 says:

    Things were so different when we were little!

  2. emmacconway says:

    How things change. I loved dipping into your memories. I was thinking something similar today about my mam’s presence in my days as a kid. There was a lot more getting on with it back then.

  3. Philster999 says:

    I think you really nailed this dilemma right between the eyes. And I think the crux of it, as you kind of hint at, is that most of our kids typically don’t have a parent at home during the summer any longer. Hence they don’t have a home base from which fritter away what should be a veritable cascade of unstructured days.

    I know, for example, in my household we usually have the break completely blocked out for our son by at least the end of May. Since both my wife and I work, we have to. His summer is usually some variation of two weeks for family vacation, a week with the grandparents, a week in (school) band camp, and at least a week of sports camp (this year it was tennis). The remaining couple of weeks simply fall into place where they can and we do try to leave these weeks as unstructured as possible. But even then, as you suggest, it’s still nearly impossible to align with other kids’ unstructured time in any meaningful way given the scheduling challenges inherent in everyone else’s families as well.

    It’s sad, but I haven’t yet found a way around it — and I agree that parents seem to spend way too much time these days filling the role as our kids’ social coordinators. Less supervision and more G&T’s certainly seem like a step in the right direction though…

    • Yes, it’s so hard to “take care of” those summer weeks by trading off vacation time with spouses, using camps and calling in the grandparents. Sounds like you have a pretty well-balanced system going.

      When the kids were little, I wasn’t working, which made it easy. Then we had a few summers once I was back at work of doing the summer juggling act. This summer I was at home full-time again because of the girl’s health and I truly appreciate what a gift it is to be here with them.

      No idea what next summer holds, but I hope I can make it long and lovely for them.

  4. Lynn says:

    I just left a long comment over at Luc’s blog about how I am also nostalgic about the long, unstructured summers, and I wish (and am trying) to be more like that with my own kids, even though it makes me fret. But you’ve made me realize that there are lots of reasons other than my own apron strings that it’s harder to have that kind of experience – few friends around during the day, food allergies that require a higher level of supervision, and also, my own desire to go to fun places and experience Ottawa with the kids. I also have an awkward combination of ages right now – while the older two are maybe old enough to go off to the park on their own, the youngest is not, and she would beg and cry to go along until I’d just throw up my hands and join them.

    Maybe the secret is to put that gin and tonic in a travel mug and bring your book to the park :).

    • This is the first summer we’ve let the boy go to the park on his own. I’m pretty sure those pains in my stomach are bleeding ulcers because of the stress this has caused me! Despite surviving my own childhood completely unattended, I’m a total worry freak when it comes to my own kids, so I hear you.

      I also hear the travel mug idea…and like it!

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