Monday, June 18, 2012

Why My Kids Are Doing "Nothing" This Summer

Since February I’ve been urging my kids to figure out what they want to do this summer.  “Find out what your friends are doing.  I’ll sign you up,” I said.  Despite weekly pleas for answers, they came back with nothing.  No sports or sleepaway camps, no camps specializing in fashion, farms, food, film or nature.  Plenty of suggestions were made, but nothing held enough appeal this year.  Why, I had to ask myself, was it so important to me to have my kids signed up for stuff?    What are my kids trying to tell me with their refusal to declare a summer “major”?

Since I work full time, and mostly from home, summer activities have always been pretty crucial.   Since my kids were in daycare, our summer days flowed much like those during the school year, except that we packed sunscreen, bathing suits, towels and goggles into backpacks instead of books and folders. Lunches were assembled and the kids were piled into the car and rushed out of the house by 8:15 for a full day of activity-intensive camp.  When they got home, they passed out, sunburned and exhausted, in front of the TV, then got up the next morning and did it again.   We are just plain tired of doing that. 

And why should we?  My kids are now 12 and 14 – too old for babysitters and too young for jobs. After 10 months of daily grind, is it so wrong for them to have a few precious weeks to just hang out with nothing to do?  Would it be awful for them to be bored now and then?   I thought about my own Florida summers hanging out at the beach or the pool, roaming the neighborhood, running through sprinklers, playing SPUD in the street.   Nobody went to camp.   We looked forward to summers because it was a time to rest and be with our friends.    So I have purchased the kids  passes for the town pool.  And that’s it.  

Sometimes I wonder if underneath the decision not to commit them to activities is a selfish attempt to keep them close while I still can.  Childhood is short, and it is, sadly, coming to an end.  Maybe  I will regret the fact that I’m not participating in the relentless resume-building and college application fortification that many of my friends and their kids seem to be engaging in, but, as they say, “you’re only young once.”   I hope that our decision to let them just “be” this summer will end up having as much value to them as the expensive camps of previous years.   At the very least, they will have time to clean their rooms, and maybe my chicken coops.  (Or maybe that’s still wishful thinking.)


Brenda said...

This sounds like a heavenly "plan"

Ashling said...

Good for you, good for them! Kids are so overscheduled these days, and the value of 'doing nothing' is lost. Inside taht bubble of nothing is reading, laying in the grass & watching clouds, long conversations, days spent swimming & nights spent watching fireflies. They may complain about boredom, but we know that someday they'll look back at this summer with the harried eyes of overworked adults & sigh with longing.

k said...

If you're selfish, then so is just about every person on the planet.
Enjoy. Maybe they'll read books or something.

catmint said...

I so agree with Ashling, kids so organized these days. Called our dog Potter after Harry but more importantly it's to remind us of the value of just pottering. Your summer plan sounds wonderful, kids never seem to tire of water. Just to let you know I haven't read people with dirty hands yet - but it's on my to-read list. Have a lovely summer (while we have a lovely winter). cheers, cm

Stacey said...

my kids are 13 and 15 and have very little planned this summer. all my daughter wants to do is read and watch movies. That's fine with me but I still have problems with my son - he will spend the whole summer inside with various electronics - is that really what I want him to be doing? No one just hangs out anymore - most of their friends are traveling or at sleep away camp all summer. it's a dilemna

JGH said...

Thanks, Brenda!

Ashling, I just love how you put that:) How's it going with the new chickens??

K, books would be good. They do read sometimes when the power goes out;) My daughter wants to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I've never read it, so I may join her.

Thanks, Catmint. "Pottering" is a word that's not used much over here. Once in awhile I hear "puttering"- I think it means the same thing. And yes, thumbs up when water is involved.

Stacey, I know - I'm concerned about that as well -- that my daughter will be going to Camp Facebook, and my son to camp Xbox. Maybe some kind of screentime limits?

Duncan said...

Your kids will thank you for the toned-down summer in years to come.

You might try setting out a really easy (350 piece) jigsaw puzzle to distract them from time to time. When that's done, move up to 500, then (you get the idea)

Bangchik and Kakdah said...

And now we are coming back to the younger days, being a couple, very much older though, cherishing every time the "kids" crowding around us.......

Malay-Kadazan girl said...

Ah...into the early teenage years. Water activity sounds good.

JGH said...

Duncan, love the puzzle idea. I'd feel like I was carrying on a family tradition because my grandmother was very big on puzzles and always had one out on the table when we'd go to visit her. Many hours spent huddling around it.

David said...

Great move! As a teacher, I worry about how much some kids are 'plugged into' programs all summer long. For your kids, it will be some of their best childhood memories for them as they get to:
build their own clubhouse out of old wood scraps (maybe?)
figure out how to churn ice cream with rocksalt
plant a garden
sit under a tree and enjoy the birds and the breeze
....and all of these are things you probably already have done with them!
Long ago,an outsider watched as the Innuit(Eskimo) let their children 'just play'. They played until their mid-teen years at which time they were ready to take over the stresses of finding their own food in a harsh environment. The European visitor once asked, "Don't you make them do anything?"
The wise reply, "Life will be hard enough when they come of age. Let them be children."

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JGH said...

David, thanks for that anecdote -- a good one for me to read right now. It's funny because I've been wondering how many chores I can impose upon them and still be fair, and have it be a relaxing summer. Hmmmm