Taking It Way Back

I Rewatched Now and Then, & It Changed How I Do Summer With My Kids

Teeny, Roberta, Samantha, and Chrissy set the golden standard.

Written by Allison Kenien
A scene from the classic coming-of-age movie 'Now and Then.'
New Line Cinema

OK, I admit it. I try way too hard to entertain my kids.

This is me: "Hey, kids, I made a scavenger hunt for you. When you're done, we can go to the trampoline park. Then we'll go pick strawberries and use them to make smoothies."

Rewatching the 1995 movie Now and Then made me realize I'm being excessive. My kids don't need all that entertainment. In fact, they might be happier if I took a very different approach.

Big Social Circles

The movie starts in the summer of 1970. Main characters Teeny, Roberta, Samantha, and Chrissy are playing Red Rover. They link arms and pick a boy to try to break past them. The girls hold each other tightly, flinging the boy away when he tries to run through. Clearly, these tweens are ready to take on the world.

Neighborhood-wide group games like Red Rover were a major summer highlight during my childhood. We'd run from house to house collecting kids for kickball, ghost in the graveyard, flashlight tag, SPUD, or capture the flag.

Now and Then reminded me why neighbors are important. Running over to a friend's house is better than gold when you're growing up, but unfortunately, my own children have no neighborhood friends. We rarely see people when we're out walking. Perhaps kids are too busy going to dance class or lacrosse practice to play out in the driveway, or maybe they play in the backyard out of view from the road.

It makes me realize the social value of a lemonade stand, a neighborhood barbecue, or just showing up to welcome newcomers. So, much to my kids' excitement, we will be pulling out the pitcher, squeezing lemons, and making new friends before summer is over.

Life Happens Outside

Teeny, Roberta, Samantha, and Chrissy are constantly cruising through their neighborhood and around town. After all, Roblox and TikTok do not exist yet, so getting out of the house is their best entertainment.

They decide to have a seance and communicate with "Dear Johnny." Their quest to discover his cause of death leads them on a bike trip to a nearby library. It takes all day to bike to the library, and on the way, they prank boys, sing radio hits, meet a Vietnam vet hitchhiker, and discuss the birds and bees over bottles of Coke.

Later in the movie, being outside sans parents creates an opportunity for Roberta to have her first kiss with Scott Wormer, played by Devon Sawa. Oh, lucky Roberta! Every '90s girl with a Teen Beat magazine wished she could be in Roberta's shoes. And in case you're wondering, Devon is still pretty dreamy in his 40s.

When I was a tween, these scenes inspired me to buy a Ouija board, strap a radio to my bike, and beg my mom to pick up hitchhikers. (She always said "no," and I wondered why since the hitchhiker from Now and Then was charming.)

Now, I can't imagine letting my kids go on adventures so far from home. Millennial parents are more protective than previous generations. As a result, today's youngsters get less time outside (an average of four to seven minutes daily) than previous generations. I'm totally overprotective too, but I'm trying to let my kids lead the way on hikes and other unplanned adventures.

Childhood Dream Homes

Over the summer, the girls save their money and eventually buy a treehouse for Chrissy's backyard. Honestly, the chic retreat is straight-outta Treehouse Masters, and it would probably cost, like, $20k today.

My kids ask me for a treehouse at least once per week. It's the perfect childhood basecamp, and if I had a tree that could hold one, I would take the plunge. Screw my fear of broken arms!

Although the treehouse isn't happening, I love the idea that hard work earns big rewards, and the Now and Then treehouse reminded me that youngsters need their own safe, comfortable space. So, my kids are doing chores to earn room makeovers. Right now, they are begging for loft beds or hammocks — it's no treehouse, but it still feels wild.

What We Really Need

The movie wraps up with Chrissy's baby being born in the 1990s, aka the good old days before smartphones and nauseating activity schedules.

After the baby's birth, Teeny, Roberta, Samantha, and Chrissy end up outside for one more game of Red Rover, reminding us that good friendships transcend time.

Honestly, it's tempting to go goblin mode and laze around the house, but my family always has way more fun spending time with people. The pandemic kept us all cooped up for too long, and now we need to make up for it.

Rewatching this movie made me realize that my best childhood summers weren't filled with amusement parks, movies, video games, or fancy toys. My best summers were filled with friends. So, as I plan the rest of my kids' summer, I'm chopping the frilly distractions and leaving time for simple games with our best friends.