With July 4th falling on a Tuesday, it feels as though the holiday has extended over most of a week, lingering and fading into firefly twilight in that wonderfully summer way. From my study window, I have been enjoying moments that are quintessentially summer: kids walking by with towels over their shoulders or sailing by on bikes and scooters; kids running barefoot, often in bathing suits, from house to house, clutching ice creams. Their roaming and play continue after dinner as they move from yard to yard to jump on a trampoline, throw a football in the street, take a last swim before bed, or discuss which parent to approach for the next sleepover.
I’m aware as I write this of how I sound like a Norman Rockwell painting, but I don’t think I know an adult who doesn’t harbor nostalgia for a child’s summer—the softness of a July evening, so full of possibility and, perhaps more importantly, freedom.
I began this summer fear-filled because my 13-year-old daughter is not signed up for much activity and, like most kids her age, needs to be unplugged from the screens that will otherwise devour her. A month in, and I think I’m beginning to relax, and it’s because, watching her, I’ve seen her transform from a school-weary kid to a sun-filled sprite who lives in a bathing suit, can’t get a brush through her chlorine-filled mane, and is too busy doing very little to take on anything else.
Watching her with her friends, I’ve remembered how easy it is for kids to while away the hours together and how naturally they can fill endless amounts of time with little activity planned for them. Many of us who lament the screen world and the life of over-scheduling hark back to “when we were kids” and how we used to be turned out to play and roam freely, living on a child’s independence and imagination. And yet, the moment our kids have a block of time in front of them, we are quick to fill it for them, terrified that otherwise they’ll be bored and…and….what? For me, it’s screen-fear.
Despite what I consider to be a well-founded “device” terror, I’m trying to live a bit more by my conviction that if we can require the turning off of screens and at the same time provide empty time for kids to fill, they can rise to the challenge and discover worlds that are otherwise pushed to the periphery of their busy lives; imagination, exploration, wondering are not generally triggered by orchestrated events and packed schedules; rather they are the fruits of empty time spent musing, drifting, floating; time spent being aimless and then inspired—by the idea of sleeping outside in a tent, building a fort, making a potion, catching fireflies or simply wondering what to do next. If we’re lucky they are the fruits of a child’s lazy summer.