“Go outside and play until the sun goes down.”
This was how my mom parented me and my two siblings in the 1980s and ’90s in the summertime. And now that I’m a mom, I totally get why.
First of all, “back in the day” there weren’t electronics, and of course, no Snapchat or Fortnite. We only got three fuzzy television channels, so our electronic entertainment was limited to an OG Nintendo and two (yes, two) games, Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt. There were three of us and one wired remote, which meant no one got much play time.
The lack of electronic babysitting left my siblings and me with two options: inside or outside play. And there was no way my mom was letting us sit inside for three months.
After breakfast, we knew the drill. We’d head outside to make mud pies under our tree house, play with the dog, and ride bikes. Then we’d collect dandelions, hang off the tire swing, and have stick fights.
We lived in the country, fifteen minutes outside of town. There were no subdivisions with cul-de-sacs full of kids, just winding gravel roads, fields, and sky. Occasionally, we’d hang out with a neighbor kid who would meander over to say hello.
While we were outside, my mom would walk around the house talking to her other stay-at-home-mom friends on a corded phone, as far as it would stretch, and make lunch, fold laundry, and dust. Sometimes she’d read a book. Meanwhile, my siblings and I would be outside creating plays and getting very dirty.
On particularly hot days, my mom would hook up the sprinkler, and my siblings and I would spend hours jumping through the moving arc of water, drinking right from the stream when we got thirsty.
If there was a dreaded storm and we were stuck indoors, we got creative. We came up with very creative ways to eavesdrop on her phone calls. But when we were tired of that, we’d play Barbies and Batman, write stories and draw, and use our primary-colored Legos to create shopping malls.
As the oldest, I would force my siblings to attend my “Manners School” in the kitchen. Or we would pretend to be bartenders in a saloon, having snuck a peek at my dad’s favorite movie, Tombstone. We’d slide glasses of juice to one another across the countertop while saying in a gruff voice, “Give me another shot!”
We dared not whine to our mom that we were bored. Uttering the b-word meant we’d be assigned a chore, such as hand-wash the dishes, sweep the kitchen floor, or fold towels. Or worse, we’d be told to go to the garden and pick corn to shuck for dinner or collect green beans to snap.
If we were particularly sulky or spouting off sass, we’d have to hang the laundry on the clothing line in the back yard, then go back out and collect it after it dried in the sun.
Those were the days.
Now I’m a mom of four and summer is fast-approaching. There are so many local summer camps and events to choose from, but I’m not having it.
I have zero desire to shell out several thousand over the next 12 weeks so my kids can make projects with excessive glitter, create slime, or perform in a concert. With four kids of varying ages, none of my kids can attend the same camps, meaning I’d spend my days shuttling all around town in the hellacious heat with whiny, hungry children in tow.
What about special trips to the zoo? A theme park? A museum? That’s more heat, more money, and ridiculous crowds of fellow moms and crying kids. Thanks, but no thanks.
I could enroll them in baseball, but nah. They aren’t even mildly interested, and to be honest, I’m looking forward to Netflix and wine at 9 p.m. each night. Hanging out at a ball field isn’t my jam.
I’m taking summer back, for my own sanity and my kids’ well-being. Hello, 1980s.
I’m anticipating lying in a lawn chair while flipping through a magazine while my kids run through an old-school sprinkler. And when they get hot and thirsty, I’ll hand them a fruity popsicle.
If they’re feeling creative, they can put on a concert in the basement. We’ve got old Halloween costumes galore. Or write a play. Or color in one of our one hundred and forty-two coloring books.
They can read, play board games, create a fort with blankets, or play dodgeball. They can create epic buildings with their hundreds of Legos. We own popsicle molds, and the kids are welcome to DIY to their heart’s desire. Let’s not forget about the excitement of bubbles.
I’ll happily help them bake cookies. We can swim, have friends over, and catch fireflies before bedtime. Hubby will fire up the grill, and we can enjoy popcorn and movie nights.
All those Christmas gifts that were shelved because the kids had school all day? We’ll pull those out and they can actually play with their toys.
And can we please talk about how magical the library is? It’s like free shopping. The kids can pick out a stack of books and movies to occupy them for the week. Or those cheap kid movie sessions at local theaters?
Oh, and on those stormy days or when the heat index is one-hundred-and-twenty degrees, my kids are welcome to binge watch Family Matters (Urkel!) or collectively play Minecraft.
And if my angels dare whine about being bored, I have a long list of never-ending chores they can help with. Like my own mom, I don’t play.
There are endless possibilities, and none of them involve me taking out a second mortgage or getting another job. And I won’t be a sweating, dehydrated, disheveled mom yearning for camp to let out so we can trudge home for a late dinner.
I don’t want to dread this summer. We want to make family memories and not be engaged in a hectic schedule that leaves us all exhausted.
Call me old fashioned. It would be a compliment. Because what my childhood did for me was teach me there is magic in the everyday.
Our 1980s summer will be counter-cultural. And I can’t wait for it.
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