Given enough time, we become nostalgic for the summers of our childhood
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Given enough time, we become nostalgic for the summers of our childhood

Summer is an inherently nostalgic time. Well, once you’ve reached an age where looking back is standard practice rather than an anomaly – when you’re a kid, summers are for living not thinking about. Reflection comes later.

In that vein, I was reflecting on how summers were spent outside when I was a kid, and how little of that I see these days. Street hockey, pick-up baseball games and even gaggles of kids on their bicycles are a rare sight, almost to the point of extinction.

Many of my own childhood memories involve summer activities, even something as simple as sitting around with friends asking each other, “I dunno, whatta you wanna do?” Life revolved around activities that were within riding distance of home, and there were usually plenty of options, the aforementioned “I dunno” notwithstanding.

There were recreational choices: playgrounds, pools, sports fields, community centre and parks where the poplar trees still stand despite many purloined branches fashioned into makeshift bows and arrows – not really a great choice of wood, in retrospect. A network of paths that ran behind the houses in the suburb where I grew up was perfect for kids on foot and bikes. There were even bike lanes when kids actually rode bicycles – today there are more of the former and far fewer of the latter.

My recollection is of very casual, unstructured summers. Something I’ve not enjoyed for many years. Something many kids don’t experience at all today.

Ponds and creeks – home to the occasional plunge – were perfect places for catching tadpoles, frogs and turtles. Pick-up baseball games – there was always one to be joined – combined athletics with a chance to bake in the sun … and go home with your shoes and underwear full of sand.

Running through yards and hedges playing hide-and-seek or chase led to scratches, scrapes and burrs in your hair.

Hands that were always covered in something – bicycle grease or perhaps the mysterious stuff accumulated by the Frisbee – only saw a nailbrush when mom got a close look.

A rope stretched between backyard trees and covered with a blanket was perfect for camping out overnight.

Even as we grew older, into adolescence and high school, we were still outside more often than not: campfire barbeques that offered the chance to simply watch the sparks fly, and co-ed touch-football games where you could make them yourself, with no thought to the laundry as you rolled in the grass.

Even just sitting around, you had no qualms about using boulders, logs or the lawn itself as a perch. Blades of grass or leaves – maples stripped of the green stuff so that only the skeleton remained – were always close to hand, and responsible for the green stains on your fingers.

At some point, however, many of us move away from that. Walking, running and cycling are replaced by the car. Our time with nature is something of a battle: mowing lawns, plucking weeds, trimming hedges. It’s a chore. The interaction with nature is a means to an end, not an end in itself, the way it was when we were kids.

While the pandemic has cancelled or scaled back many activities just now, the summers in recent years are about kids taking part in structured programs such as day camps. All-day recreational activities abound. It seems there are fewer opportunities for kids to be kids, to enjoy what summer vacation is all about.

It seems to me many adults have forgotten the simple joy of pure, unvarnished fun that comes with being a kid in summertime. Plenty of time to do whatever you want … or nothing at all.

I know I’ve lost touch with the simple pleasures. Summer seems to slip by in an instant. As winter drags on, I can’t wait for the hot stuff to arrive. The next thing you know, it’s Labour Day, with all the downside that entails.

I love the heat of midsummer, but in some ways I dread its arrival. A warm May elevates the spirits. June signals summer’s arrival. For some reason, however, I experience a twinge of regret when the calendar flips to July. July is great, but it leads to August. And we know what comes next.

Undoubtedly, there’s some kind psychological issue associated with anticipating the end of something even as it’s just getting underway.

Such thoughts never occurred to me when I was a kid. Time was different then. Not so fast. And each day was to be enjoyed, not filled with obligations. The weeks didn’t streak by as they do now.

When you’re a kid out having fun, the day can fly by. But the summer lasts forever. As adults, the day can drag on, particularly those hours between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. But the weeks and months are here and then gone.

As a kid, your summers are environmentally friendly and good for you, body and spirit.

Think about it, summers – at least as I knew them – were spent being active outdoors. At that time, we were literarily in touch with the earth – and we had the grass stains on our knees to prove it.

Lest I be accused of falling into the things-were-much-better-when-I-was-a-kid trap, I’m not alone in my assessment. There’s a bit of a movement to let kids be kids, to break out of the over-protective mode and to stop micromanaging children’s lives.

Scottish-born Canadian writer Carl Honoré chronicles the worldwide phenomenon of childhood micromanagement in his book “Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting,” in which he suggests we need to slow down, allowing kids to do their own thing.

“Childhood is always evolving and it has always been defined by adults. But we seem to have reached a point now where childhood is being warped more than ever before by adult fantasies and fears, anxieties and agendas. Every aspect of childhood – education, safety, discipline, sports, play, etc – is now set up to suit grown-ups rather than children. We are living in a culture that tells us that childhood is too precious to be left to children and children are too precious to be left alone,” he writes.

As children, my friends and I were usually left to our own devices, and we managed to do just fine, please and thank you. That’s not to say there’s no room for structure from time to time – if that’s what the kids want.

For the most part, there’s nothing wrong with letting them find their own ways: it will probably lead to the best memories when they get old enough to be nostalgic about their childhood.

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