Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Summer Stretch

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 young 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 me 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 hours and hours to fill with illimitable 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 opportunities, 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 neighbors 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 was the assigned reading list and homework, and the library shelves were mine for the plundering. I remember waking without the rude insistence of an alarm clock, to pick up a book to read in the quiet of the morning, the birds singing vehemently outside my open window, or, at the other end of the day, staying up way past the school year's bedtime barrier, 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, perhaps 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 children have their own store of summer reading memories. Emily's are notable for trotting to the library, the little red wagon in tow for hauling home a new supply of Carolyn Haywood books; the discarded empty dishwasher box in which she read the first Box Car Children mystery; the favorite spot high in the huge backyard maple tree where I couldn't find her for weeding the garden and she could squeeze in another chapter. There were long, hot afternoons whiled away on the big front porch, children sprawled, listening to me reading aloud, accompanied by the drone of insects and the squeak of the porch swing.,

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 against the temptation to pack our children's every waking hour with organized activities. Nothing hinders creativity like absence of room to breathe. Nothing produces boredom like the restricting influence of overly conscientious parental supervision, which can stifle any inclination a child may have to pursue personal inventions or putterings.

And nothing encourages imagination more than hours in which to wonder, ponder, pretend, and play. 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 experiment and implement his own versions? How is a child to find the time to even read some books if life is always stuffed full of get-up-and-go? And hyrry, will you? - while you're at it.

So maybe this summer the family can schedule in some undesignated, undefined time and space in the childrens' days. Or, maybe one of the summer "activities" could be some specified hours for reading - that occupation which lamentably gets squeezed out with 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. That time and space of summer freedom can still exist.

I was right about this one thing as a child for sure: there are no end of things to be done and thought and imagined when the doors were opened and the whole, long and spacious summer ahead was free for the taking.

For the joy of reading,



  1. This post brought back some of my best childhood summer memories. I was an avid reader, and I loved toting my books outside and reading in the shade on a blanket. Some of my best memories.

    1. Amber,

      I loved that too. Hopefully our children will grow up with some of these memories also.


  2. Another memory is chomping on rhubarb right off the plant, dragonflies, cows mooing or lowing, firecrackers, and of course Jack and Jill.