This story was reprinted with permission from the June-July issue of Area Woman Magazine.
Summertime is nearly upon us, and so my husband and I have been spending our free time ensuring our children have none of it. Between baseball, science camp, goalie camp, theater, fishing, swimming, and golf, if we want our boys to have the same carefree days of our own youth…well, they have a few select hours between sun-up and the time when the streetlights come on to cram in any lighthearted breeziness.
This overscheduling is due, in part, to the fact that everything is so much MORE now than when I was a kid. Growing up in Grand Forks, the bulk of my summertime memories involved riding my bike and tanning at the public pool – because there was basically nothing else to do. Sure, my little sister and I would pick up the odd job here and there and when we got older we’d spend a few weeks at sleepaway camp, but the moment school ended so did every other structured activity in town. In fact, the only items on our to-do lists were mealtimes meaning (just like every other kid in the neighborhood) we’d head out into the sunshine and blue skies just after breakfast and come back when the sandwich bread was being buttered for lunch. If I ever got bored of this untethered, unbounded play, my mother would hand me the tub of powdered Minute Maid and tell me to hold a lemonade stand. One summer we had six lemonade stands.
At some point between my own childhood and that of my sons, all of the grownups got together and decided there were far too many lemonade stands and something needed to be done. That war on boredom coincided with the invention of the Internet and the enlightening of society as to all of the bad stuff that could happen to children who were left un-helicoptered. The Internet, and ensuing social media, also turned the spotlight onto a whole new level of parental competition – all of it together leading to the rise of MORE activity, MORE structure, and MORE FUN, dammit.
The thing is…all of these activities are more fun. For one, there’s something for everyone. Don’t like sports but want exercise? Try Ninja Warrior. Or horseback riding. Or Ninja Horseback Warrioring. Plus, most of the programs have scholarship opportunities so no kid (or horse) is left behind.
Also, the kids like it. My husband played organized hockey as a boy – two days a week, for roughly three months in the wintertime. Our ten-year-old, by comparison, skates and/or trains almost every day for almost the entire year. When we realized the insanity of that schedule and tried to reduce it, Ten got mad that he was missing out on fun with his friends. (And, on more than one occasion, my husband has said, “I wish I had all of this opportunity when I was his age; I would have loved it.”)
Still, childhood is precious; and free play is precious; and summer break is especially, especially essential to happiness (starting a petition now to give grownups summer break, too). So, my husband and I are also making a conscious effort to build in some long “vacations” from all the structured fun so that our boys have the time and space to ride their bikes all over the neighborhood (wearing their Gizmo watches so that I can track their movements every second of the day), create elaborate scenarios with their action figures, and host as many lemonade stands as the neighborhood can stomach.
Let’s Be (Official) Pals!
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