I still remember that July afternoon in the early ’80s. I was dressed in the summer uniform of my four-year-old self — my pink sequined tutu from Rummage-o-Rama. I ran in circles around the cracked plastic pool in the middle of the yard and leaped over the hose hanging out the side.
My toddler sister sat naked in the middle of the murky water, happily splashing bacteria into her open smile while floating blades of grass clung to her chin. My parents’ bodies indented their vinyl folding chairs — my mom slathered with baby oil while lacquering her toes fuchsia, and dad’s mustache occasionally bobbing out below his paperback.
That afternoon, my dad had handed me a 17 cent cylinder of iodized salt and told me that if I managed to sprinkle some of it on a sparrow’s tail, the bird would be temporarily flightless and I would be able I keep it as a pet. I still remember my delight and anticipation as I galloped around the hunk of plastic in the yard, bounding toward birds with my grubby fingers eagerly clasped around the salt container.
I never caught a bird that day, but on that day and throughout many messy and uninhibited occasions in my own childhood, I did catch a perspective.
Life is only a series of moments. The moment doesn’t care if it takes place in a weed-filled yard outside of a shabby duplex if it is filled with joy and presence and wonder. Neither does the moment care if it takes place at Disney World if it is hungry and standing preoccupied in a sweaty line.
Now, I realize sending children to summer camp or daycare is a necessity for some families. However, where I live and with my particular work schedule, paying for a babysitter to come to the house while I work in the summer happens to be much cheaper than paying for three kids to go to a camp or daycare. So, considering this reality and keeping in mind my own precious unstructured childhood, my husband and I opted to “send” our kids to “Camp Free-for-All” at home this summer — run partially by Camp Counselor Mommy and partially by Easygoing Babysitter Stacey.
The moments at an exciting summer camp or a well-scheduled daycare may be memorable and formative. But, as my kids hopefully learned this summer, that also can be true of the moments spent lazily cuddling past breakfast time in mom’s bed, or the moments spent digging holes in the yard and “mining” underground with hammers, or creating robots with dollar store duct tape and shoe boxes. It can just as easily be true of throwing eggs off the deck and learning which contraptions break their falls, or going to the plain old free library and getting lost in a picture book about Greek gods. It can be true of making the most amazing forts with sheets and thumb tacks in the walls, or experimenting with rope contraptions and food to see if bunnies can be caught, or searching the yard for hours for caterpillars and lizards, or lining up chairs in the kitchen and standing on the table pretending to take a train to the Eiffel Tower. It can definitely be true of making up a new “cookie recipe” using only cake mix and butter, or drawing comics and selling them at the end of the driveway, or happily roller-blading along the cracked sidewalk and diving into lawns when it’s time to stop.
So, in doing nothing “special” since school got out in early June, my kids had the kind of uninhibited, creative, and spontaneous summer I had in the 80’s — the kind of magical summer that still makes me smile three decades later.
I hope my kids someday look back on their own childhoods and recall that life is a series of moments, moments that don’t have to be “incredible” to be incredible.