By: Tanya Ward Goodman
Aside from birthday parties and the obligatory sweaty hike up a dusty trail to a bee-infested picnic area, I have very few summer memories that include my parents. Of course they were around. They made hamburgers and drove us to the Burger Boy for pineapple shakes. But they weren’t involved in every minute of my day. I think if I’d asked them to be they’d have wondered if I’d lost my mind. My dad had paintings to create or more often signs that needed painting and my mom was involved with her garden or her volunteer gig at the zoo. They had a lot going on and they expected that I would, too.
Because I made a promise at the beginning of this summer to refrain from overscheduling and keep things a little loose, I’ve been trying to remember what was best about being six or eight in the mountains of New Mexico in the 1970s and trying to bring the essence of that to my six and eight-year old kids who live in the late aughts in Los Angeles. No easy feat.
I reminded the kids that they have toys. Lots of toys. I reminded them that these toys are to play with. You can take them outside, you can create a world where the Playmobil pirates ride My Little Pony and live in a Lincoln Log house and that is just fine. At first they looked at me in shock. And then, they tentatively poured out a few things onto the floor and two hours later, they were deeply involved in a complicated storyline.
My brother and I spent hours and hours concocting elaborate scenarios that included Han Solo, Bo and Luke Duke, and the Six Million Dollar Man. My parents never seemed to care if one of our toys went missing or got broken or muddy and because of that, I think we felt free to do what we wanted. I like things to be in order and as a result, all Ponies and Pirates have always lived in separate boxes. “Everything has a home,” I repeated throughout the toddler years. And my kids took it to heart. I’m glad that they are adept at putting things away, but I do think it’s time to mix it up a little – broaden the scope of their imaginations. Summer is the perfect time to break these rules.
The second thing I did was open a book.
“I’m going to read a book,” I said. “You should, too.”
At first they were grumpy. They wanted to watch TV.
“Read,” I said.
And they did. For a long time.
I read “Anne of Green Gables” in the summer and all of the Madeline L’Engle books. I read “The Black Stallion” and followed Nancy Drew through dozens of mysterious situations. It was in summer that I sobbed over the loss of Beth in “Little Women,” and kept a notebook like Harriet the Spy. Summer is for losing yourself in a book.
Right now, my daughter is building a castle out of Styrofoam packing material. I can hear her having muttered little conversations with herself. My son is in the bath making boat noises and I am here, writing away. Everyone is perfectly happy.