What summer is all about

J0432703 “Mom,” my 10-year-old said to me the other day, “for the first time I know what summer is all about.”

I knew exactly what he meant. And I felt both glad—he should know what summer is all about—and guilty. Did it really have to wait until he was ten—almost eleven?

Well, yeah, actually, it did. Because what he’s talking about is freedom, and hanging out with friends, and playing outside and sometimes losing track of the time and being late for dinner. And until this summer, that option just wasn’t available.

Until this summer, as a mom who works full-time for a salary (there is no good buzzword for any of this. WOHM just doesn’t work for me), I put the kid in camps. I had an amazingly complicated multicolor calendar representing a patched-together summer of sports camps and art camps and drama camps and carpools.

Last summer, I left one week open as an experiment. It was a week during which I had no business travel plans, and he had siblings around to keep an eye on him in case I had meetings; otherwise, I’d be working in my home office. I thought we’d fill it with playdates. It was a disaster; all his friends were fully booked or out of town; he was bored and miserable and spent way too much time on the computer.

This summer, things have changed. For one, he’s going into sixth grade. That means I regularly leave him home alone for bits and pieces of time without worrying that he’ll wreck the house or starve to death. It also means he has a longer leash—he’s now allowed to go to a nearby playground on his own and to go downtown on occasion (during daylight and with a friend; and yes, I know not everyone agrees with this long a leash). (Of course, that usually means a stop on the Apple store where, again, he spends too much time on the computer.)

He can also get himself to and from places on his bicycle. That means when he schedules a playdate or is attending a local camp, he can get himself to and from it and I don’t have to schedule his transportation into my work day. With transportation not an issue, I was able to sign him up for half-day camps; enough to keep him from being bored but still have plenty of time to figure out what summer is all about.

And, perhaps because the camp options for 11-year-olds start getting pretty limited (the camps they’ve done for years are suddenly feeling too young, they’re too young to do volunteer work without a parent, and there’s very little targeted at the 11-12 year old demographic), or perhaps because of the economy, this summer, there are lots of kids around looking for something to do. So when he goes to the playground, he finds his friends there looking to play as well. When he calls a friend, there’s a 50-50 shot he or she will be home. When he finishes his morning tennis camp and heads downtown for lunch, there are kids eager to join him. And I’ve simply stopped looking up when the doorbell rings, this summer, it’s usually a neighbor kid looking to see if he wants to come out ride skateboards or bikes or throw water balloons.

So I’m thrilled that my youngest finally knows what summer is all about. Meanwhile, I’m coming up with a new definition of summer for myself—one that isn’t about confusing camp schedules and carpools and making bag lunches every morning.

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