By: Shannon Ralph
I swore I wouldn’t do it. I promised myself I would never be one of those parents.
You know the parents I am talking about. The ones who believe summer vacation should be a time of cultural “enrichment” for their children. The parents who sign their kids up for Cantonese lessons over the summer. And ukulele lessons. The parents who futilely sign their altogether non-athletic children up for volleyball. And baseball. And aerial acrobatics. The parents who force their children to endure Gardening Group. And ceramics lessons. And Chess Club. And culinary classes.
I swore I would never be one of those parents who take every opportunity to “program” their child’s summer vacation away.
Then I found myself, one fateful day in May, perusing the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation summer activities list. I panted with excitement as my children rolled their eyes and groaned with dread.
“Look, Lucas!” I said. “You could take an Improvisational Theater class on Thursday mornings.”
“Sophie, doesn’t Hip Hop Blast sound like fun? You like to dance…sort of.”
“Nicholas, they have Holiday Ceramic Ornament Making for Youth. Three days a week!”
My children protested. They complained. They whined.
But I was convinced I knew what was best for my young charges. My children needed summer programming. Left to their own devices, who knows what sort of blabbering, drooling imbeciles they would be by the end of the summer!
So I forked over hefty sums of cash that was not in my budget and forced my children to pick an activity they wanted to participate in for the entire summer. Never mind that they have trouble committing to an activity for an entire day, much less three months.
My two eight-year-olds chose gymnastics and my twelve-year-old chose fencing.
So now I find myself in a quandary at the end of July. Thursday evening dinners consist of Burger King in the car as my wife and I split chauffeuring and half-hearted cheering duties. My youngest son fakes a stomach ache every time his gymnastics class is scheduled. My oldest son, covered head to toe in sweat after donning all the safety gear required for his fencing lesson, begs me daily to quit. My daughter loves gymnastics, but I am convinced she is an anomaly.
Summertime is made for kids. And kids want to be kids. Kids need to be kids.
Remember summers from your youth? Those of you, like me, whose parents were too poor to send you off to summer camp know what I am talking about.
Red, white, and blue popsicles dripping down your arm. Running through the sprinkler. Drinking from the hose. Lazy days spent in the swing in your backyard reading a Judy Blume book. Watching TV—and lots of it. Riding your bike to the local pool. Swimming until your eyes turn red and your hair turns green. The intoxicating aroma of hamburgers on the grill. Pink-tinged shoulders. Playing video games in your pajamas at two o’clock in the afternoon. Catching fireflies. And butterflies. And frogs. Eating fried bologna sandwiches for lunch. Drinking near-fatal quantities of sugary Kool-aid with red dye #5. Piling into your parents station wagon and heading to the lake. Squatting down in the back seat so your cheap, albeit lovable, dad can convince the ticket taker you are under 10. Cooking hot dogs over an open fire. Sleeping on the floor of your best friend’s bedroom, night after night.
As a kid in the late 70s and early 80s, I thrived in the summertime. I lived for the summertime. I may not have been able to speak Cantonese when all was said and done, but I had the time of my life.
This is what I want for my children. Long, lazy days spent doing…well, absolutely nothing.
You can have your summer back, kids.
Mommy loves you.
Here, have some Kool-aid.