Summers of discontent !
June 1, 2002 7:08 AM   Subscribe

Summers of discontent ! "This article talks about how the children nowadays utilise their time 'constructively' and as a result, enroll in all kinds of classes and 'summer camps'. Although I consider these activities good, I wonder what happened to the summer holidays where all one used to do was play cricket, visit grandparents / relatives in villages / towns, make some innocuous prank and idle away the time without a thought about school and studies in mind ..."
posted by sheauga (42 comments total)
I never had to do anything in the summer. I never saw a summer camp and never joined a team that had to listen to an adult barking commands. Summer was for escaping regimentation, not piling it on. Maybe Bharatnatyam classes would have been good for me, but I thoroughly enjoyed the slow warmth of my summers and learning how to be a kid before I had to be an adult.

I wonder how many parents send their children away during the summer, ostensibly to better the children but really just to get rid of them.
posted by pracowity at 7:24 AM on June 1, 2002

I have 5 sisters, and a helluva lotta friends, and I never heard of anything like this... at least not during childhood. Maybe it is changing, who knows. But I do know that most camps are relatively short and relatively expensive. Summer, at least for me, used to be exactly as you described, doing nothing but going to the park, swimming, and playing outside. Now I work 9 hours a day doing web design, have no tan except the glow caused by the florescent lighting, and have a C++ class at the local community college. I’m productive… but not by choice, I blame it on this fast-paced, fast-food society of nowadays.
posted by banished at 8:05 AM on June 1, 2002

Things change.
posted by Postroad at 8:06 AM on June 1, 2002

And not always for the better.
posted by pracowity at 8:08 AM on June 1, 2002

i can remember a few summers where all i did was sleep in and watch tv. sometimes i would go someplace or read something, but mostly i just slept and watched tv. glorious!

i guess the difference between now and that seemingly long distant torpid existence is its punctation with work. but then again, i find a regimented existence not too different :) instead i just procrastinate and surf. hooray!
posted by kliuless at 8:45 AM on June 1, 2002

Things do change, Summer vacation was so you could work full time on the farm. In a way, maybe things are changing back.
posted by thirteen at 9:10 AM on June 1, 2002

I went to D&D camp one summer when I was around 12.

It's really better than it sounds.


*weeps softly*
posted by Grum at 10:16 AM on June 1, 2002

I never did much in my summers either. Cable TV, goofing around with friends, cable TV... It was actually quite depressing. By late August I was always blue, yet still dreading the onset of school. A few activity-filled summers wouldn't have been bad. I know childhood is childhood and all, but if I spent an entire summer like that NOW I'd wind up slitting my wrists for sure.
posted by scarabic at 10:24 AM on June 1, 2002

oh, and school was a regimented existence, too :) now my life is like that ALL THE TIME. yay!
posted by kliuless at 10:40 AM on June 1, 2002

like summer vacation? what's your secret?
posted by sheauga at 11:33 AM on June 1, 2002

I agree sheauga, I think there is something valuable about the 'old-fashioned' summer of unconstructed days spent lazing, playing, meandering, and just generally enjoying the weather and the free time. I think something positive comes out of having to construct one's own activities, something that might be lost when one is adhering to someone else's 'structure', especially a 'goal-oriented' one.
posted by evanizer at 11:37 AM on June 1, 2002

lots of TV! priorities :)
posted by kliuless at 11:44 AM on June 1, 2002

My summer days generally consisted of the following: riding my bike (often in the sun! without sunscreen even!), mowing my parents lawn and other people's willing to pay me $5, playing with fireworks, playing kick-the-can, setting things on fire, playing freeze-tag, riding my bike to the city pool and swimming, setting more things on fire, going on vacation with mom & dad and my two bratty sisters, playing cops and robbers (with toy guns!-which will probably get you sent to counciling now), watching TV, and building stuff with my Radio Shack 150 electronic projects-in-one kit.
posted by ArkIlloid at 11:53 AM on June 1, 2002

Your summer sounds like mine; I work basically full-time in the summer now (after school's done), but there's still plenty of time for random, unsupervised chillin'.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 11:58 AM on June 1, 2002

Another enemy to traditional summers: year-round schools.
posted by rushmc at 12:18 PM on June 1, 2002

rushmc: True. I attended a year-round alternative elementary school. It wasn't too bad, though. The lessons were lightened, and we were given a three-week break in June and again in August, so I can't say I suffered.

Heck, I'm glad my parents gave me constructive things to do during my Summers. The shut-in that I was (and still am), I probably wouldn't have gained much wordly experience in those those summer months.
posted by Down10 at 12:54 PM on June 1, 2002

Something else that has changed, at least here in the US, is that the fear of lawsuits has made it impossible for many kids today to move about with the freedom enjoyed by previous generations. If I had a kid, it would be impossible for him/her to have the kind of adventures my parents and grandparents had when they were young.
posted by homunculus at 1:08 PM on June 1, 2002

hanging ou till the street lights came on, making the loong walk to the baseball card shop, legos, and the neverending entire neighborhood squirtgun fights (nothing more shocking then getting drenched by someone's father with the hose when your sneaking up on his kid).
posted by Mick at 1:32 PM on June 1, 2002

My summer's were not unlike ArkIlloid's. I grew up in a small town in Idaho and after the theater closed ala The Last Picture Show, the swimming pool was about it. Man, I used to swim the length of the pool underwater in one breath. Once, after hyperventilating, I swam it in one breath after exhaling first. I was seeing black circles by the time I got to the other end.

There were the bike rides and star gazing, too. The streetlights were the old fashioned incandescent teardrops hanging in the center of intersections which were so dim you could see the Milky Way at night from your backyard. I saw four or five meteor fireballs in my childhood and the sky glow from one night time A Bomb test (we were due north of the test range) in the late 50s. I was playing with my best friend after dark in our driveway and we happened to be facing south--all of a sudden, the sky turned daylight blue as high as the trees across the street. It was so eerie.

When I was a little older, my father, who was a wild man, got even crazier. I ended up following my sister into the Episcopal Church just to be out of the house on Sunday morning. Which lead to church camp--four acres of prime real estate at Payette Lake, near McCall. It was a cold, cold lake in which to swim, but you could see the bottom a hundred feet down. Plus the camps were co-ed. Whereas I was a green monkey at home, I was one of the cool kids at camp. Whoo hoo! Was it fun!

And what homunculus said--the playground equipment at my grade school; slides, swings and merry-go-round were positively lethal by today's standards. The merry-go-round was this huge open octagon of steel pipes with splintery wood seats. We'd all pile on and let the big kids pump us around to warp 9. Heck, the school principal used to do it.

There was a huge open dirt parking lot between our sand on asphalt playground and the town's wooden baseball stands. In the winter when it snowed, all seven or eight the recently-graduated-to-junior high thugs and bullies (you could be a sixth grader until you were 14--after that, you had to be socially promoted) would have a snowball fight with the whole grade school at lunch. It was like the battle scenes from Spartacus.

I'd hate to be a kid now.
posted by y2karl at 1:59 PM on June 1, 2002

From eigth grade on I always took summer school classes. They only took six weeks or so out of the summer and were a great way to spend some time. The school was nice and quiet and the classes were longer and more concentrated than regular year classes.
posted by HTuttle at 2:13 PM on June 1, 2002

Let's not forget that age-old summer pastime: blowing things up. Like setting them on fire, but you get to have your fun all at once.
posted by websavvy at 3:17 PM on June 1, 2002

Taking a shovel and digging up one red ant hive and then dumping it on top of another--ant wars! Downside: getting stung by red ants if you weren't quick and nimble.
posted by y2karl at 3:24 PM on June 1, 2002

I guess the idea is that it's easier to turn 'em into productive, hypercompetitive overachieving drones early. Kids don't seem to play outside anymore either. I used to spend a good six or seven hours every day during the summer months. When I was eight or nine years old, I roamed the old growth woods (long gone and replaced by cookie cutter subdivisions) for miles.


The merry-go-round was this huge open octagon of steel pipes with splintery wood seats. We'd all pile on and let the big kids pump us around to warp 9.

Yes! Half the thrill was knowing if you happened to fly off you were going to die! We also loved the "get the other kid four feet up in the air on the seesaw and then jump off" game.

I'd hate to be a kid now.

Me too. Kids need some down time. It's tragic that so many of them don't get to experience the wonders of the mundane anymore. I think that's why so many people end up unsatisfied with their lives.
posted by mark13 at 3:31 PM on June 1, 2002

Oh yes, and catching bees in milk jugs and pickle jars.
posted by websavvy at 3:42 PM on June 1, 2002

I was just talking about this today with a friend! I was describing my knowledge of the former geography of my 'hood. Being on the edge of burb everything has changed and been built up now but I used to know every nook and cranny. I had hunted for crayfish in every stream, followed every path, explored every forest. Over the summers of my youth I developed an intimite relationship with sub-division I lived in. There was a sense of exploration, discovery, and columbus like conquest (when I enslaved the minnows of St. Francis creek - Mwuhahaha [read in voice of the seven up commercial guy from the seventies and the new orleans bond movie]). I have vivid memories of my childhood and I hang onto them like a lifeline...

Firecrackers, hide and go seek, bmx-ing, and late night confabs in the cone of light beneath a street light. Hang on someone's at the door. BRB. Neil just got back from Myrtle Beach. Bottle rocket bicycle tag time. Catch ya later...
posted by srboisvert at 4:44 PM on June 1, 2002

Allow me not to join in the chorus about selfish yuppie parents who want to get rid of their kids. I spent most of my summers engaged in the same unstructured pursuits of which we all sing the praises, but it seemed like the norm back then, and especially in my parents' generation, was to send your kids to overnight summer camp, or to a relative's house out of state, for a good deal of the summer. My mom was shipped to her mean aunt's house in Minnesota every year - talk about getting rid of your kids! Most of the new activities everyone laments, at least in the U.S., are strictly during the day.

Also, the article contained this:

"There are a lot of activities that a child can do within the house as well; like learning to iron clothes or helping with the cooking."

Somehow I suspect the new structured summers have some benefits for girls.
posted by transona5 at 4:47 PM on June 1, 2002

Okay, reality check -- how many people who have commented in this thread so far actually have kids?
posted by briank at 5:03 PM on June 1, 2002

Well, I have a nine-years-younger sister, and she and her friends have always seemed to do whatever they want over the summer (generally nothing.) Usually the most structured thing they did was a two-day band camp, and the occasional music lesson. I've never observed a soulless-yuppie-summer trend, although my parents live in a yuppie suburb.
posted by transona5 at 5:10 PM on June 1, 2002

and smoke pot?
posted by shadow45 at 5:39 PM on June 1, 2002

oh, and PS: somebody just told reminded me what i've heard a million times before: "it's all downhill after college"

exscuse me while i go shoot myself kthxbye
posted by shadow45 at 5:45 PM on June 1, 2002

The school district that my kids attend is actually considering year round schooling, with staggered mini-vacations several times a year for each child. Meaning, my 2 children could have off 2 weeks in the fall, 2 weeks in winter, and 2 weeks in spring, and 2 weeks in summer.

Believe it or not, most parents around here (affluent, both parents making big money, 3 car garage types) are crazy wild about this idea, because it means that they don't have to worry about what 500. a week day camp to throw their kids into each summer - just send them to school and when they get their 2 weeks off, that's when the family will go on vacation.

I hate the idea, and will change schools if it comes to that. I want my kids to spend their summers barefoot and running under sprinklers and chasing down the ice cream truck and exploring creeks and chewing on blades of grass and doing all of those important things that kids need to do.

Summer vacation is essential to mark the passing of time. I can still remember each summer vacation when I was a kid, but the whole school year itself is a blur. Remember the anticipation on the last few days of school? It was so overwhelming that it almost made you ache. Remember how luxurious each day felt, in June and July, and you felt as if you had a never-ending supply of time? And remember how you felt towards the end of August - dreading and anticipating at the same time, each day becoming infinitely more precious than the one before it, until one day you realized that the days were becoming shorter, the air at night was a little cooler, the fireflies were gone, and you had every fresh composition book stacked and every pencil sharpened and every new outfit lined up in your closet. Then there was no denying it - summer vacation was over.

Sorry for the novella. I'm very passionate about summer vacations ;)
posted by iconomy at 8:54 PM on June 1, 2002

I have a kid... and we work hard to ensure her summers are fun and completely unstructured (meaning I take the summer off and work from home to be with her). We head to the creek during the day. She walks across the lawn and through a hole in the fence to play next door at her buddy Allison's house. BTW she is three. We are not ready to let her roam more than that yet.

Hot afternoons are spent at the library off in the reading room with other kids while I sit within eyesight reading a book. Cookouts are the norm at least once a week. Once a month we have a potluck. The sandbox and pool are out and cleaned and the doors are wide open so drue can rush outside in the yard and play and come in to her heart's content.

we do have her in swimming lessons. this will be her first year.

we arrange neat trips. we take one big trip down to see the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. my mom hosts a huge cookout and both families gather for a long afternoon of eating, drinking, soccer, frisbee and frog chasing... that night we catch fireflies and chill out catching up on each other's lives. we go to kelley island, to the scottish festival, and to the hot air balloon show and air show. we head over to aunt fran's pool or down the road to the creek to swim as often as we can.

we know our neighbors and have a block party once a month. we all work damn hard to make this small area a place of happiness and joy for our kids. you see kids playing stickball, roller blading or playing in the street... everyone says hi...

and yet we are one of the few communities that does this. I understand I am VERY lucky and one of the fortunate few who takes off for the summer to be with my child. but after a year of activities and playgroups every morning so I can go to work, she needs a break. I cannot imagine her not ever needing this three month break when she starts montessori in the fall and continues through her school years.

on the other hand, when both parents have to work perhaps camps and structure are better than letting them stay home alone... being a latchkey kid today is not a good thing if it ever was.
posted by gloege at 8:59 PM on June 1, 2002

My youngest niece had ballet lessons, violin lessons and it seemed like her interactions with her friends from private school when she lived here--Lakeside, Bill Gates alma mater--were by appointment. Then they moved to Ithaca when my brother got a job at Cornell. She went to Exeter and is now at Yale. When she writes, it's all about studying for finals, working two jobs--one volunteer, one to help pay for school--or how the Yale Symphony is going to Prague, Budapest and Vienna the next week. She was a driven child, an honor student since day one, is still driven now.
I'm blown away at the intensity of it all, happy and proud she's done so well. Sometimes I think that if I had any say or sway, there'd have been beau coup hang time for her growing up--I'm with iconomy and gloege on the importance of that one.

I remember going back to visit my grandparents in Kansas and staying in this big old farmhouse full of two antique stores worth of stuff---the wind up victrola, the marble games, the ouija board, the picture of the wolf in the snow above the sleeping village, the stereopticon, the toy room with the cast iron bombers and the Superman comics with Superman holding Hitler and Tojo by the scruff of the neck, walking into a town of 300 with two or three stores, watching sheet lightning, seeing fireflies, getting bit by chiggers. I had no idea then of how lucky I was--so much of the time, I was bored to death.

I wonder how she'll look back on her childhood. She did get to visit her cousins from time to time and do things like play video games and torture grasshoppers and run around and be obnoxious to her uncle with my sister's youngest, so she had flashes of what used to be the normal childhood.

Then again, what a life she'll have from here on out--I'm happy for her, what's she's become, how smart and sensible she is, how far she'll go. Times have changed. But my hat's off to iconomy and gloege just the same, for the lengths they have gone to give their kids a taste of the old world, especially in the sense of the Modern Lovers' song by the name--so much is gone now, gone forever. And yet, had I a crystal ball when I was a child, I would want to be eight years old right now, if not ten, twenty years down the road. There is no moral to this story, I'm afraid, I can draw no conclusions.
posted by y2karl at 10:54 PM on June 1, 2002

And yet, had I a crystal ball when I was a child, I would want to be eight years old right now, if not ten, twenty years down the road.

Preferably as a kid like iconomy's and gloege's, if I also knew the score on the structured contemporary childhood and I had the option however. So there is, if not a moral, a conclusion to be drawn after all.
posted by y2karl at 11:01 PM on June 1, 2002

I suppose childhood should be full of idyllic summers, but strangely enough, as a college freshman, I feel like my summers can no longer be full of nothing. I must be getting old or something 'cause I feel like I *need* to go get a part-time job and maybe do something "productive" like learn ActionScript, PHP, or SQL (the latter could be attributed to the fact that I'm a geek, and I'd enjoy learning 'em).

I'm not saying that I don't need a break, but something just feels not right with staying in my hometown with friends "wasting" all the time away.
posted by hobbes at 11:06 PM on June 1, 2002

I guess I am becoming a productive, hypercompetitive overachieving drone, or it could be the fact that I did near-to-nothing during the entire school year.
posted by hobbes at 11:09 PM on June 1, 2002

Bravo, iconomy and gloege. Too many parents are concerned merely with what is convenient for THEIR schedules and who they can foist their children off on that will inconvenience them least. I applaud your willingness to make "sacrifices" on behalf of your kids in this manner--I'll bet they pay off as much for you as for them.
posted by rushmc at 7:36 AM on June 2, 2002

Goofing off at Island Lake Beach Club and trying to pick up women at the adjacent Pinebrook Day Camp.
posted by ParisParamus at 7:47 AM on June 2, 2002

I was a latchkey kid and it wasn't bad at all. My mother didn't know anything about my life at all and didn't want to know. This is the way it should be. I remember building BMX tracks too, with the neighborhood kids in an abandoned quarry, then having competitions, or spending hours and hours golf-ball hunting (and stealing) and selling them back to the golfers. I remember lots of daredevil stuff like walking across the railway bridge or riding on the back of trains or making an raft out that floated on oil cans and trying to sail it in the swamp. I also spent huge amounts of time playing war or bullrush or just being part of the gang and just hassling or being hassled by other kids about who was a chickenshit or a fag and deserved to be run away from of kept secrets from or trapped under the house. I also remember just about every square inch of the neighborhood, where the evil people lived, which territory was mine and my friends and which was no-go (basically racial). The best thing I remember was trips into the city, all the fantastic people there, and the promise it held for the future.
posted by dydecker at 10:05 AM on June 2, 2002

Summers were cool.
posted by noisemartyr at 12:24 PM on June 2, 2002

Okay, reality check -- how many people who have commented in this thread so far actually have kids?
how many people who have commented in this thread so far actually were kids?
posted by quonsar at 1:02 PM on June 2, 2002

"Bring back those lazy hazy crazy days of summer..."

Fireflies, 4th of July fireworks, sleepouts in the yard. I grew up in what was in the 60's a far NW 'burb of Chicago. Still plenty of corn fields, untamed patches of prairie and a small town feel. But not so far out that we couldn't make a trip to Wrigley or, even better, the Mecca of the Chicagoland summertime kid experience: Riverview amusement park. Take the loudest, biggest, funkiest carnival you've ever seen and multiply it by 100. I suppose Coney Island in its glory years would have been comparable. Total kid paradise.

What happened to summers like that? If I had to pick one single factor, it would be the demise of the single wage earner family. Having mom at home gives you a lot more options.

Extended families with grandparents, aunts and uncles living nearby can really help you balance family and work schedules. These are still the norm in some cultures, but are difficult to maintain in our high-mobility society.

My son is almost 5. It's always been a goal of ours to make sure that he has plenty of unstructured time to just be a kid. On weekends, we try to go with his flow as much as possible. During the week, he goes to preschool, but other than a computer class offered at the school, he hasn't been exposed to any extracurricular activities. We've enrolled him in a summer day camp for couple of months. The goal is not academic - there are a lot of activities, but it sounds like a lot of fun - field trips, arts & crafts, swimming.

He starts kindergarten this year, and he's starting a new chapter in his life, although he doesn't realize it yet. Wish him luck.
posted by groundhog at 6:44 AM on June 3, 2002

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