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Memorial Day is behind us which means that as we look ahead we see nothing but the long, lazy days of summer. Henry James, the nineteenth century author captured this idea so well when he wrote, “Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”
As teachers and education personnel exit their respective buildings for the next three months you can hear the chatter among parents collecting their children as they compare notes asking, "Where will you go this summer?" or "What will the kids do?".
While the questions are relative, as many families find that they have an extra amount of time on their hands, the implication is that in order to have a successful summer vacation one must plan, schedule, be active and avoid idleness at all costs.
Wait! Doesn’t that go against the very nature of summer? This is the one time of the year where it is actually acceptable to be caught playing more than working. Summer days are long and evenings are cool. It’s the time of year where the sun kisses our noses, our feet get dusty from evenings at the ballpark and our pool towels gently fade as they dry in the breeze. Finally sweet tea is sun brewed and food from the grill is especially delicious as bedtimes are pushed back and porches become gathering places illuminated by lightening bugs in mason jars. What other time of the year can you have these moments of pleasure without guilt or hesitation?
I'm certainly not suggesting that family vacations, classes and summer camps are bad. In fact these are great opportunities to explore new ideas and experiences. I'm simply suggesting that the things we do don't make up who we are.
And less you think I’m nothing but a nostalgic fool let me remind you that even nature understands and responds to the different seasons. Some seasons throughout the year are for working, some are for reaping and even others are a time of barrenness. But summer? Summer is none of these things. Summer is a time to enjoy the earth in its full bloom. It is the space between work; it is a time to be.
Likewise, summer is not the season to be in a classroom, it is time to be outside of the structured walls of academia. That is not to say learning doesn’t take place. It simply looks different. I worry that as parents, perhaps in our attempts to keep children active, we've neglected to give moments free of obligations and allow time for roaming and exploring. In the midst of all you are doing take time this summer to be quiet, to relax and feel the warmth of the sun on your skin. Stop and look for crickets and listen to the cicadas. Lie in the grass or read a book in the shade of a tree.
We must model these behaviors as adults so that we can teach our children that who we are as people and our happiness as individuals doesn't come from our ability to consume or travel. Those are privileges that are meant to complement our lives - not define them.
As you look ahead to summer I can only hope that you experience a slower pace, a toasted marshmallow and the company of good friends. Summer will certainly end soon enough, which means childhood will as well. Take time this summer to be. It will be good for you. Why? Because I'm the mom and I said so. That's why!
Stephanie is a Parent Educator for the Monmouth-Roseville School District and mother to five children. You can email her for questions or comments at email@example.com or catch her pool side, her favorite place to be until school resumes in the fall.