Summer comes around each year like a measuring stick. It’s such a carefree time full of joyful memories.
As this summer kicked into full swing over Independence Day weekend, I was struck by how different the experience seems to be as my kids grow older. I noticed that my teenagers rarely play anymore, and it made me sad.
My early parenting summers were chock full of big, colorful toys, plastic houses and ride-on tricycles. Those were full-immersion parenting days where I orchestrated their playtime. The kids were full of glee when I pulled out the garden hose. Whether the prop was the sprinkler, the slip n’ slide, super soakers or the kiddy pool, they would run, laugh and shout with cousins or neighborhood friends until dark.
As the years went on, they began to rely on themselves more and more for a good time. It was a relief to be able to sit back and watch them catching frogs or bugs or chasing fireflies. I might have had to lend a little assistance when they asked to make homemade popsicles, or when they wanted to search in the pool for dive sticks, but they were becoming creative and more self-reliant.
There were countless summer nights when they were school-aged where they played Manhunt in the dark all over the neighborhood. I didn’t know the game, but I was thrilled at their enthusiasm. When I listened to them become fully engaged in old favorites like Marco Polo, Freeze Tag, Running Bases and Capture the Flag, my heart soared. What a joy it is to know your children are living life to the fullest!
It seemed to me that there was no end in sight to these joyful summers. I realize that we raise children to become independent, and mine are moving in that direction. What breaks my heart is that we also raise them to leave.
Sure, my high-schooler annoyed me last summer with an abundance of downtime that included too much Netflix binge-watching, too much Instagram and too much Snapchat. I told her she needed to get a job this summer and she did. And she loves it. And she is never around.
My middle-schooler is right behind her. She is the one I noticed no longer plays. I think it’s partially a loss of interest and partially adolescent insecurity that leads to young teens sitting sedately on a lounge chair instead of running around being silly. She reads, she talks on the phone, she interacts on social media and thankfully she creates through art and music, but she no longer plays. That is, unless someone very special to her, someone from her early years, makes an appearance.
This week, her same-age cousin is staying with us, and I caught them playing a couple of times. I didn’t say anything, for fear they would stop, but they played Around the World in our driveway and an old favorite called Dibble, in the pool. To hear them laughing out loud from the gut makes me very happy, but I know, like childhood, it is fleeting.
And that is the lesson here. All these 15 years of parenting and it just sunk in. At times it seemed there was no end in sight to the constant playing, the chatter, the shouting, the laughter and the cleaning up after them. Then one day it’s over. They are suddenly mature. They sit down.
Sure, I’ve gained yoga and hiking partners. We can have coffee together and go clothes shopping. But the completely carefree summer days over. Looking back on my childhood, those were truly some of the best days of my life, so I mourn that for them. Lucky for me, though, I have a 4 year old that I can watch do it all over again.