We are deep into summer now with all that entails – intense heat, dazzling sunlight, long days, cookouts, corn on the cob, fireflies, swimming, the smell of sunscreen and bug spray, thunderstorms, melting ice cream cones, and time away from school. I love everything about it.
Summer has always been my favorite time of year. I just feel more relaxed, even when I am busy with work. I get vicarious pleasure from my kids’ thrill of being out of school. I also recall with great fondness my idyllic childhood summers spent out of the city, living a very different life in the country.
For many years, my parents rented an old ramshackle farmhouse. My brother and I spent our days exploring the barns and outbuildings, picking wild berries, walking to the general store to buy penny candy, chopping wood and building campfires, going to the swimming hole, climbing trees, playing Wiffle ball and Frisbee, helping out in the vegetable garden, riding our bikes, and BEGGING our mom to take us to Howe Cavern.
There was no TV, so we spent our evenings and rainy days reading, doing puzzles, playing card games, crocheting, drawing, listening to my brother’s singles collections and comedy albums, and being bored. The grand finale of every summer was going the county fair, which had fun rides, livestock competitions, and the best maple candy money could buy.
I have always dreamed of spending summers like that with my children. I felt so lucky to have had a taste of rustic, country living and wanted to share that with them. But our lives were different. My mom was self-employed, so she could take her work with her where ever she went. When my kids were little, I worked outside the home full time. So they went off to day camp when they were younger and then eventually, sleep away camp. I feel sad that they didn’t get to have the same experience that I did. But then again, they had their own experiences that were fun and meaningful to them.
For several years they both attended a camp had an amazing, enclosed, magical outdoor space that everyone called “the big yard” and my kids, especially my son, loved it there. It was a place that was conducive to imaginative play. There was a jungle gym, a big sandbox with digging toys, trikes, an area with big bushes to explore and hide in, an open area with amphitheater-style seating where the kids would pretend to put on plays or “get married,” and lots of shade from the big trees that grew around the perimeter of the yard. When I would pick up my children, I would stand outside the gate for a moment to listen for my children’s voices among the happy shouts and peels of laughter that echoed off the walls of the big yard.
Once they grew out of that camp, there were a few tough years when I could not find the right day camp for my son. He was too big for the big yard and too 2e for the local day camps that my daughter enjoyed. He had a few miserable summers of just scraping by at camps where kids were not very nice to him and the counselors didn’t understand him. And then there was the summer where he dropped out of camp altogether and I took a leave of absence from work to stay home with him. It was too late to make many plans so we spent a lot of time visiting one grandma or the other. While it wasn’t a complete disaster, it was hardly the idyllic and restorative break from school we all had hoped for.
When my kids were older and went off to sleep away camp, things improved dramatically. They learned to live away from home, make new friends, and gained skills I never could have taught them. My husband and I also got a much-needed break. They would come home tan, happy and a little more mature.
This year is different though. This year, both of my kids are home for the summer and they have jobs. I feel both happy and sad about this. I am sad because I was never able to spend a summer with them like the kind I had as a kid. I’m even mourning this a little bit. And that is okay.
I am also incredibly proud and happy for them. They were both determined to get jobs this summer and they persevered until they each found something that worked for them. My daughter is a counselor at a science and nature-themed day camp for girls, and my son has a job working for a chess camp as an assistant counselor. And they are happy!
Yesterday my son came home from work and told me and his dad that he had to look after an unruly camper in the afternoon. I was very curious to know what that was like for him and how he handled it, since he was an unruly camper himself, once upon a time. He said that he got through the episode by being patient and not yelling at the camper (!!!) and then letting the child’s parents know when they came to pick him up. We also got a text message from his boss letting us know what an asset he has been to the camp. Swoon!
So while I may have missed out on realizing one kind of dream for my kids, I am happy that I have given them what they need to be successful in ways that are important and meaningful to them and that is really what the job of being a parent is all about.