Summertime! Here in California, some of us were beginning to doubt if it would really come this year. Yesterday I was visiting with my little neighbor kids, riding their scooters up and down the sidewalk. They’re glad school is out, but already expressing slight boredom.
I’m sure I probably got bored sometimes in the summer when I was a kid, but as I look back, all I remember is a long stretch of wonderful golden days. Playing and hiking in the woods near our house…swimming in the creek at Pin Hook Bridge…sitting in the hayloft of the barn across the road, eating fresh drippy tomatoes and reading and reading and reading.
Most of my childhood summer adventures were free, but I think it cost a quarter to get into the swimming pool at Coney Island, outside of Cincinnati Ohio. Every Friday my brother and sister and I walked about a mile to our country school, and rode a school bus to the Coney Island Swimming Pool. (To this very day I can’t smell Coppertone suntan lotion without being transported back to the Coney Island swimming pool.) Standing in line, hugging our towels and waiting to pay our quarter, we always saw two signs painted on the wall. One of them billed Coney Island’s “Sunlite Pool” as The largest recirculating pool in the world. The other told us, “You don’t stop playing because you get old. You get old because you stop playing.”
I’ve never forgotten those two signs; they’re inherent in the Coppertone smell. And as I grew up I determined to never stop playing. Who wants to get old?
Billie Holiday sang about “Summertime…when the livin’ is easy” and when I was a young mom I decided to make sure the livin’ would be easy in the summertime! There would still be chores, and there would still be lots of “required reading”, but we would cut ourselves a lot of slack and plan for as much fun as we could stuff into a summer! I wanted my kids to look back on their summers as a long string of golden days, like I do.
And I think it worked. A few days ago I was talking with Matthew, who is now 34. “Remember how we used to go to Turlock Lake every week in the summer?” he asked me. “And we always stopped at the frostee place on the way home.” Of course I remembered! Dozens and dozens and dozens of drives out the country highway to the lake – a happy blur. Not a long drive. Not a lot of money. But the memories are etched in Matthew’s heart with bright clarity.
“And remember we used to ride the bikes out to see the donkey?” He continued to reminisce, “We took carrots and he always came over to the fence to see us.” He even remembered that we named the donkey, Balaam, after the prophet who met a donkey.
I think it’s important to have traditions – happy memories of continuity. But summertime is also a good time to do small spontaneous silly things – those kinds of things you always say, “We should do that sometime…”
For example, driving north on highway 99 we always saw a footbridge arching across the freeway, and the kids always said it would be fun to walk across it and look down at the traffic. We’ll do that someday, we always told each other. Finally we decided to make a list of all those we-should-do-that-someday things, and do them in the summer…“when the livin’ is easy.”
And we did.
We drove nine or ten miles north to park the car and walk slowly across the footbridge. We stopped and looked down at the cars. Then back again, and home. Such a small thing, but it’s one of the summertime adventures we always remember.
Another time, when Monica was stroller age, construction had just been completed on a big multi-story parking garage downtown. The construction was finished but it was not open yet. Matthew sighed with delight, “Wouldn’t it be BAD to ride a skateboard all the way from the top of that?” Wow, that sounded like a great summertime adventure! So I pushed Monica in her stroller and Matthew and his little friend brought their skateboards and we walked to the top of the parking garage and ran and rolled all the way down!
A few years later when Monica was older and David had joined the family, one of them had the idea of digging a pool in our back yard. We decided that was one spontaneous idea we couldn’t really go along with. But John came up with a brilliant alternative! He lined the bed of his truck with plastic sheeting and filled it with water and before long it was also filled with kids!
I don’t remember what kind of checklist we made for our spontaneous summertime adventures. I don’t think it was too fancy, but it did the job of prompting our memories. Our friend Alison has fine-tuned the summertime adventure list, though.
Alison is one of John’s colleagues – a brilliant, hard-working, professional woman – and one of the most delightful hands-on mommies I have ever seen. I saw recently that she made her own variation of a Summertime Adventure List, and I complimented her on her creativity. She told me how much her kids like to get involved in planning the list. And then they enjoy doing the things. But she said they have almost as much fun checking them off the list afterwards!
And so, tomorrow is the official first day of summer. Enjoy it! Think about traditions and adventures and spontaneity…and long golden days of fun.