Thursday, June 11, 2015

School's out for the summer, but it's not the same

The school year is ending, or so they tell me. It's amazing how disconnected parents can become when their youngest child leaves public schools. Immediately, the school calendar, which had governed family activities for years if not decades, becomes irrelevant. For me, that moment came 20 years ago, when my youngest of three children moved on.

The culture of summer vacation today would be unrecognizable to the children of my (admittedly now aged) generation. We celebrated being free of school's routine and sang, "No more school, no more books, no more teachers' dirty looks" as we leaped from the school bus. We had nearly three months free, completely. There were no summer enrichment programs, no summer camps, no museums, no arts classes, no day care and few, if any, trips to occupy the summer.

My siblings and I were free to wander through the fields and woods exploring all that nature and man's intervention had left. We fished in the little creek, chased tadpoles and caught turtles or terrapins, and we avoided snakes. We slept late. We played backyard baseball and occasionally arranged baseball games at the empty school field, if we could get there. We rode bicycles and explored the barn loft. We did chores, feeding the dog that mainly fended for himself and made sure the milk cow had food and water. We got out of bed long after our parents had left for work and entertained ourselves with games of all kinds. We wandered for miles across fields and hills and streams, climbed trees and built contraptions for our pretending. We were unsupervised for most of the day.

Our house was not air conditioned, but the school buildings were not either. We rarely entered buildings that were cooled in summer. The church had large windows that were opened on muggy Sunday mornings as everyone prayed for a breeze. The drug store a block from the church had a ceiling fan but no air conditioning. We learned to tolerate the heat and knew the value of a good shade tree.

Today's parents would never allow such a hazardous level of freedom, and social workers would be appalled at our freedom from supervision and lack of educational opportunities. They would be shocked at my clear memory of a sunny afternoon of the last day of school nearly 60 years ago. I had gotten off the school bus and strolled into the back yard and lay down on a lush expanse of unmowed grass. I lay there and felt the hot sun on my face, the cool grass against my back and the sunny warmth against my body and thought how wonderful it is to be a kid in summer.


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