The Art of Doing Childhood


There is an interesting addition to my house these days.  I’m sure this observation will not come as a surprise to anyone raising children.  But there is, draped on the sofa or porch swing or floor, a lanky T-shirted person with bare feet and a grubby face and too much time on his (or her, as the case may be) hands.  

Summer.  Oh yes; forgot about that.  

Summer is the time in which young people sleep late, do fun things or do nothing, regroup mentally, physically, and socially, and spread their developmental wings to become their next version of a butterfly.  Summer is the time in which older people–regular tired working folks counting the days till Friday–may get one day or week off or maybe not.  Their draping summer person may be supervised, or maybe not.  This indolent creature is also invariably suntanned, knee deep in the various gadgets-of-the-month, and full of good cheer or boredom, sometimes both at the same time. He (or she) can get into trouble.  He (or she) will and probably should get into trouble, as long as it’s the tame kind, the trouble that finds its way into nostalgic memories.

Summer is Childhood.  Summer is what I have almost forgotten.  

Every year I just about lose the awe and might of it, and then…I remember.  Ah, yes.  

The chimes of an ice cream truck.  Quantity, not quality, time.  I used to spend hours with my friends, chatting as we draped ourselves over the fence in my front yard on Long Island.  I used to spend hours counting fireflies on a hot humid night.  I used to blow bubbles, jump through the sprinkler (alas, no pool, then or now) and play in the streets till way after dark, and take off on my bike and be gone all day.  I used to go to camp, sporadically, and then not go to camp.  We went to Robert Moses Causeway instead and body surfed the huge curling waves.  We hated school and then missed it and then looked forward to it while pretending not to.  You know….

So, here I am, watching my draped person.  And because of him, I get to do Childhood again.  When he runs out for ice cream, I follow.  When he lies on the grass watching the ants, I sit carefully down next to him, avoiding the ants, and wonder at the joy of it.  We actually blow bubbles.  When he takes out the art supplies, I find the time to paint with him.  Sitting on our porch swing, I tell him about the fireflies.  I envy his freedom and rejoice at my little taste of it.  When he comes home from a bike ride, I watch him remove his helmet and run his fingers through his sweaty hair.  This is performance art in so many ways.  I am re-living Summer.

Five years ago, when my son was eight years old, I asked him if he wanted to go to camp.  And he said, “No, I want my time unstructured.”  I nearly fell off my chair.  Where did he get that from?  Won’t he miss a daily routine?  Won’t he get BORED and drive me crazy, especially when I’m working out of the house?

Maybe.  And yes to the driving me crazy part (gotta be honest here). But maybe feeling bored is part of the art of it.  Maybe we need to do nothing in order to more gloriously sprout our wings.  I heard from Morgan Freeman on “Through the Wormhole” (Science channel) that when we do nothing, are brains are as busy as when we’re active.  Just a different kind of busy.

And there are all kinds of butterflies, too.  Even at my age. 

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