I was that quintessential ’70s kid. My summers were filled with long days spent outside roaming through the woods with my cousins. We played in creeks and drank out of the hose. We ate junk food, got dirty, and generally ran around without much adult supervision like a pack of wild dogs. I guess we were developing our creativity and social skills somehow, but a lot of the time we were bored off our butts. Yeah, I have some great memories, which I probably tend to idealize in all honesty, but during my childhood summers, I used to get impatient waiting for Vacation Bible School (VBS) to start. I wasn’t even religious, I just craved some structure!
That’s why this summer, my daughter is going to science camp, VBS (though we’re still not religious), swimming lessons, children’s theater, and whatever else I can get her involved in.
Let’s face it — things aren’t the same as they were 40 years ago, and in some ways, they’re much better. It can be fun to recreate the spirit of the ’70s now and then. Shoot, go ahead, mix up a Harvey Wallbanger and play some Debbie Boone records if you want. Let the kids eat popsicles and run in the sprinklers here and there. But don’t forget that kids thrive on structure, and don’t forget that running around all day in the woods is pretty much not an option anymore.
That forest you played in when you were 10 is now a strip mall with a Best Buy and Pei Wei. Besides that, we now have Lyme disease, which is enough of a reason for me to never venture outside of a neatly manicured lawn ever again.
A lot of the reason we ’70s kids spent all day outside was because we had no air conditioning. (Gasp!) Besides that, we had no other entertainment options and my family couldn’t afford extracurricular activities. Nowadays, there are tons of cool camps and lessons kids can take and trust me, the children of the ’70s would’ve gladly traded their above-ground pools for a week of circus camp. If cooking classes, painting camp, or tennis lessons had been available, you better believe we would’ve jumped at the chance to put on some clean culottes and spend our days immersed in new and exciting experiences.
When kids aren’t exposed to enough new and exciting experiences, they get in trouble. And I’m speaking from experience here. I’ll leave some of the details of what actually went on in the woods to the imagination, but I can tell you, I don’t want my daughter following in my footsteps.
We did crazy things when we got bored. You know what they say about idle minds (and no, I didn’t learn that in VBS). When my daughter’s working on experiments in science camp as I work at a nearby coffee shop, I can rest assured knowing that she is busy, safe, and engaged. Besides that, I get to be productive, too.
Summer isn’t an excuse to be lazy. I see the time off of school as a different kind of opportunity for learning. Instead of math and spelling, children can focus on specialized skills, like learning how to surf! Summer lessons don’t stretch our children thin and exhaust them emotionally (as if exhausting them is a bad thing). They help them to be well-rounded. Seriously, I wish I could take a week to do nothing but learn to make my own marionettes.
I didn’t go to sleepaway camp because we were poor, but every summer I dreamed of canoes, bonfires, and archery. I wanted a bunk in a cabin full of kids my age and a bellyful of s’mores. Camp critics be damned. Children are just fine spending a month away from their parents as long as they’re supervised by plenty of camp counselors and directors and constantly engaged in organized fun.
When my daughter is old enough, she’s headed to the Catskills, so long as we can afford to send her. I had well-off cousins who went to camp every year. I was so envious, I could’ve ripped the heads off of their big-eyed Bradley dolls. Even Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang went to Camp Remote, and look at all the life skills they learned there.
This summer, my daughter is not sleeping late every day and gorging herself on fluffernutters and cheese balls while watching Don Knotts and Mama Cass guest star on Scooby Doo. No way is she risking her life Lord of the Flies-style, unsupervised in nature, either.
Between brain-eating amoebas, leeches, and pollution, I’m not letting my kid splash in a filthy creek any more than I’m going to slather myself in iodine and baby oil and bake my skin in the sun while slurping down a saccharine sweetened Tab. Some things need to be left in the past.
The closest to the ’70s we’ll probably get this summer will be the yacht rock I play in the car as we drive to swim lessons. My daughter is going to be immersed in fun, scheduled activities for most of the time until school starts, and I’m thrilled about it. It’s going to be a groovy — I mean, awesome — summer.More On