When I grew up in Connecticut in the ’50’s and ’60’s, my father made a good salary, and when school was out for the summer, we could have traveled to California or Florida, seen the Grand Canyon, or Yellowstone. But our summer vacations were more fabulous than that. Every summer we drove to Ohio to visit my grandparents and cousins. My brother and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Summer was sacred. It was not a time to pack in more “stuff” to do. It was a time to play with the neighborhood kids and build relationships that lasted into the classroom and beyond. It was a time to use our imagination and creativity because no one was going to entertain us. It was a time to sleep late and stay out until you were dragged inside in the dark. You had time to read, time to make up little plays with your friends and perform them for your neighborhood. You volunteered your mom to make Kool-Ade for the occasion. There was plenty to do, and if you were bored, it was because you were boring, and you knew it, so you found things to do.
Your big adventure for the summer was going to visit family, especially grandparents if they didn’t live close by. When you got older, you even were shipped to your grandparents for a week or two before your parents joined you. No, you didn’t dread going. You loved sleeping in the attic with the drone of the attic fan running all night, or sleeping in the basement, the coolest spot in the house. You loved hearing stories about your mother or father or great grandparents you never had a chance to meet. This time with your grandparents and cousins was a time of bonding that would keep you when you returned home and had to deal with your parents when you messed up or they messed up. It was a time to get to know who you were and where you came from. It grounded you, gave you a sense of continuity, not of floating around in space without anchors to the earth. That time with your grandparents was as important as anything you learned in school. Even more important.
Would your parents have enjoyed taking a vacation more exotic? Of course. But it was unthinkable if it was a choice between visiting family or skipping seeing them for another year.
I am in my 60’s now, and I still look back on those Ohio summers and see them clearly. They were some of the best summers of my life. Yes, times certainly have changed. Summers now are times to cram in every available activity: soccer, gymnastics, swim camp, theater camp, band camp, and more. No wonder parents are worn out! No, I’m not really making a judgment here. You put your child at a disadvantage if you don’t give your children these summer opportunities when most of their friends and peers are experiencing them. If we had had those opportunities, our parents would have pursued them, too. But my heart tells me I’m glad we didn’t.