Thursday, May 1, 2014

Nothing Doing

In Arizona, where we live now, school ends just before the month of May does.  Since today is the first of May, I think I can confidently say that the countdown to summer vacation has begun.  As much as the girls like school, and as quickly as they will start thinking about life in the next grade and all the fun and glory it will surely bring, there is the sense now that summer is out there, and it has some fun and glory to bring first.  Of course, summer weather in Arizona compares to a cool evening in the first ring of hell, so I have some trepidation about the season to come, especially where my air conditioning costs are concerned.  That's generally overcome, though, by a nostalgic feeling from my own school days when summer stretched out like a three month magic carpet, where anything was possible, and nothing was compulsory.  
Phineas and Ferb, seen almost daily on the Disney channel,
doing their best to enjoy every day of summer vacation.

That, I think, is the real allure of summer vacation:  the daily grind of school days is suspended and the requirements of homework and learning and just plain having to show up every day disappear with the warm breeze of the summer months.  Summer days seem to evaporate.  And that's okay.  The pressure to get ready for the next day, to get through the week, to make it to the weekend, doesn't exist during summer vacation.  A most excellent vision of this is available on the Disney Channel series Phineas and Ferb, in which the title characters strive to make the most of every day of their "104 days of summer vacation, until school comes along just to end it."  The amazingly intelligent and well-adjusted stepbrothers are often seen relaxing in their backyard until the big idea for the day comes to them, as Phineas exclaims, "Ferb, I know what we're going to do today !"

That's how it when I was a kid. (Minus the kicky music, the zany inventions, and the pet platypus, of course.) I'm sure it makes me sound nothing but ancient to say this, but when I was a kid, time after school was kind of like that too.  Kids played on sports teams and had piano lessons, and there was plenty of homework, by my reckoning, but there was also time to to just hang out. I would say it was like a taste of summer vacation in the middle of a school week, but it wasn't a big deal then, to just spend an afternoon hanging out at a friend's house, playing or reading or listening to music.  It wasn't anything as formal as a "play date," it was just a matter of everyone checking with their moms, then getting on their bikes, or getting out some toys.  

There are any number of reasons why kids are so incredibly scheduled these days, and if I were more inclined as a social scientist or better with statistics, I might be able to offer some kind of explanation.  I could rant about it, but that's only going to raise my blood pressure.  Instead, I can just express some nostalgic sadness and some righteous outrage for the lost opportunity to do nothing.  At least I won't be alone.  I ran across this article by writer Anna Quindlen, which pinpoints the importance of free time so much more eloquently than I ever could:

Of course, it was the making of me, as a human being and a writer. Downtime is where we become ourselves, looking into the middle distance, kicking at the curb, lying on the grass or sitting on the stoop and staring at the tedious blue of the summer sky. I don't believe you can write poetry, or compose music, or become an actor without downtime, and plenty of it, a hiatus that passes for boredom but is really the quiet moving of the wheels inside that fuel creativity.

What really strikes me about what she says is how clearly she associated the free time she had to sit around doing nothing (and sometimes, to be totally bored) with the growth of her creative mind.  It seems kind of crazy to think that we need to remember that our kids-- all of us, really-- need time to sit and dream.  The thought that this is wasted time is a sad feature of our culture, when all of us can be connected to others 24/7, without ever being left to entertain ourselves with our own thoughts and actions.  Most adults, and I include myself here, can't sit and wait for more than a few minutes without picking up our phones or tablets and trying to find out what everyone else we know is doing or thinking.  it doesn't make for a very introspective or creative future generation, does it?  And the way the world is going, we might need our kids, and theirs, to be skilled creative thinkers...

So as we look forward to summer, I think am going to impose a requirement on the girls while school's out:  Do nothing!   Get bored, then make up something to do.  I want them to take time to let their minds wander until they get to some fantastic world of their imagination, populated with princesses and Lego men and flying horses and stuff I can't even imagine anymore.  But I'm going to try.  It will be my summer vacation too...

Schoolhouse pic from this page.


  1. Lovely post! I agree we all need more downtime! ;)

    1. Thanks Beth-- sometimes I forget what downtime is!