Kristina Beers: Learning to play an important part of summer

By Kristina Beers

Special to the Pioneer

I am excited for the summer break, as it’s nice to have a little reprieve from such a regimented routine and early rising. Not that I have any relaxation, mind you — my routine stays pretty much the same, but there is something to be said about not worrying about snow days, school schedule and after-school activities. There also is something to be said for a boy who comes upstairs following a solid 12-hour sleep, well- rested and a tad bit taller for all the growth that happened during his slumber. To me, that is a satisfactory accomplishment.

Our boys still at home all have jobs, so there will be fewer 12-hour sleep days and more 12-hour work days, but something about the early sun and late stars make summer days feel decadent and freeing. Even me, when I woke this morning, I thought I must have forgotten to set the alarm for I felt delightful; when I looked, though, I woke before the alarm. I mused a situation like that would never had occurred in the bleak winter when all I want to do is crawl back under the covers.

Many families schedule their summers even more frantically than they do their regular work-a-days: camp followed by camp followed by camp with a few family trips peppered in here and there. I personally find that terribly frustrating and a source of tremendous anxiety in children. Our summer vacations? I opened the doors of the house and said, “Go play. I don’t want to see you until dinner.” We allowed one church camp when they were in high school, but nothing else and I truly mean nothing else: No music camp (with the exception of the one-week mandatory band day-camp to prepare for marching season), no sports camp, no leadership camp, no “team-building” camp, no scout camp, nada.

We have had our share of learning experiences, summer camp being one of them. For one year, I felt I was depriving my children of some magical experience by not sending them to summer camp. I had come across a single, solitary photo of the one year I went to camp back in the ’80s and decided I should send the boys. Only two were of age and off they went, smiling and nervous. Three days later, there they came back, dirty, exhausted, and filled with tales of bad examples. I won’t say every camp is like that, but I will say there are things my boys learned on that vacation which I’m not exactly proud of — and what did I expect when a crew of adolescent boys are led by a teenage boy? It was only then that I remembered my own camp experience and why I begged my parents never to make me go again.

My summer philosophy is much like those old photos you see now: bikes littered in the yard, farmer’s tan, sweaty dirt, quenching thirst by a garden hose and leaving yucky fingerprints on the icy glass of lemonade mom brings out as a special treat. I am so thankful we have stuck to our principles and gave the kids the time to be young children: making their own bad decisions, learning from their mistakes, skinning knees, climbing trees, crafting bike jumps, building forts, swimming in the pond, getting leeches, having their hair full of sand, riding bikes, watching for shooting stars, finding fireflies, and camping out in our woods.

That freedom allowed each and every one of the boys to form his imagination, begin to order tasks that are important, and learn there is a time for rest. Mostly, it allowed him to understand the true nature of leisure and culture in a community, which is something terribly missing from much of our anxiety-ridden society now. It is my firm belief an over-booked childhood leads to an over-booked adulthood with no understanding even how it is that one can stop. Not every moment has to be filled with something just to be filled.

Many people say I’m crazy or that a booked summer “keeps kids out of trouble.” Well, for starters, I used that camp example to point out trouble will find kids, no matter where or how. I’d much rather it be a pack of brothers who know the rules and get in trouble with mom or dad than a pack of unrelated boys with various understandings of virtue: put a bunch of kids together (any kids) and the IQ plummets. I also believe booked summers create more trouble and anxiety than they’re worth, both for parents and kids.

Now that the boys are older, we leave ample room for relaxation, but they also have jobs, which is fantastic and a part of the maturation. Work mixed with play is essential to a full and happy life, but one has to know how to play in order to know how to work.

Kristina Beers lives in the Remus area with her husband and five sons. She shares her thoughts on parenting teenagers and young adults on the first and third Saturdays of each month.

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