It is the middle of June, and when I was growing up in my little valley home, that meant school was out, and we were free for the summer. I still can hear the whoops and hollers as we were dismissed from class and ran pell-mell to our bikes, jumped on, and pedaled as fast as we could toward home and summer vacation. Oh yes, the refrain of “No more pencils, no more books; no more teachers’ dirty looks” filled the playground as kids joyfully raced away, not once glancing back at another school year that had come to a close.
Who among us does not remember the sense of release, freedom, adventure and discovery; all ours for three whole months? The excitement that was summer vacation seemed palpable, and for me, those days were the happiest of my childhood.
The world was a hot, sunny, fragrant, lush wonder of orchards, irrigation, insects, frogs, pets, and kids playing everywhere. There would be all the homemade ice cream, watermelon, peaches, grapes, and Koolaid popsicles, frozen each day in my mom’s tupperware molds, a child could consume. Our toys were garden hoses, shovels, tennis rackets, balls, chalk, bikes, and nets on sticks. We squirted, dug, drew, rode, and caught winged critters from morning to night. It was unstructured, uncomplicated, and no one graded our efforts; all we had to do was be a kid and unleash our unlimited capacity to have fun.
Looking back upon those days which lacked pretty much any supervision, I admit there are a few regrets. I really wish my brother and I had not tricked our little neighbor kids, Jimmy and Mayla, into jumping right in the center of every valley kid’s summer scourge, the dreaded puncturevine, which grew prolifically in the alley behind our houses. Those little guys made a running jump, landed exactly where we told them to, and immediately realized the sharp-spined burs were really painful, and then were horrified to see they could not walk nor get enough speed going to jump back out to the fine dust of the alley. Could it get any worse for them? Shameful confession; yes it did. My brother and I ran away, and left them, crying, in the center of those awful sticker vines. Not my finest moment, and one I cannot get back for a do over. Wish I could, but I know I cannot.
I wish we had finished at least one of those holes all the kids in our neighborhood tried every summer to dig to China. We all brought a household shovel to the hole, with brothers and sisters taking turns manning their family shovel. We always got to the point where a small ladder was needed to climb in and out of the hole, and we kids were determined to succeed in digging through to meet up with our Chinese counterparts on the other side of the globe before September. Usually about the end of July, everyone had wearied of the effort, and stopped showing up to dig. I never did learn who filled the hole in after we were through, but by Autumn, the hole was gone, and we all would vow to do better the next year.
There were opportunities to spend weeks at my grandparent’s house, but every time I went there, after a few days, I was bored and wanted to go back home. Their little country home was too quiet, and completely lacking in other children to play with for my tastes. I could read, garden, walk down country lanes, and visit with my grandmother; at the time, it was not enough. If only I had the sense back then to know how fleeting it all was, and to take advantage of the gift of time I had been given. It is too late, now, and even though I have cut that little girl I was some slack, because she was just a child, it still pinches my heart to think of what I rejected by turning my back on their grandparent hospitality.
It seems children today spend more and more time with electronic games, phones, iPads and computers, and I wonder if it crosses their minds what they are missing. I wonder if they would choose to play outside instead of maneuvering through the challenges of a video game, if it is not something they grew up doing. Will they look back someday with regrets they did some naughty, thoughtless kid things, or will they look back and regret they actually missed their childhoods, entirely?
Because I believe children are the same age to age, I am holding out hope today’s kids, and those to come, will never lose the joy found in an unrestricted, no holds barred, imagination unstifled and set free summer vacation.
The more I think about it, I am issuing a call to all of us who have had simple, home grown fun. Come on guys, let’s grab our shovels, and help all the kids in our circle of love get outdoors, and dig that hole to China! Maybe one of us will finally make it!