"We get 18 delicious summers with our children. This is one of your 18. If that's not perspective, I don't know what is." These words, which circle widely round the interwebs, are attributed to a person named Jessica Scott. The first, and the second, and the third time this quote worked its way into my social media feed, it made me feel anxious and annoyed.
I work full-time, all year, and so does my husband, Jon. We have done so for our kids' entire lives. Our sons, Julian and Kai, are now 11 and 9 — which means we've already blown through more than half of our "delicious" summers. The first five with each, we sent them to daycare from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. For the subsequent four and six, we signed them up for day camps, one after another, all booked by March 1 — after many text messages and emails with the parents of their friends to make sure they'd be with buddies and we'd be able to lock down carpool help. I assumed — rightly or not — that these were decidedly not the sort of scenarios Jessica Scott had in mind when she authored her evocative summer sutra.
And these are not the sort of summers I savored with my brother, Angelo, 30-some years ago in western Pennsylvania. Our days went something like this: Wake up; eat Rice Krispies with banana slices; lounge around with Dusty, the cocker spaniel who loved us but bit all the paper boys. Get on our swimsuits while Mom packed bags. Walk the quarter mile from our house down the hill, past the old school, the Presbyterian church and the street where my grandparents lived. Arrive at the Quarry.
The Quarry was a deep, water-filled pit, carved by explosives in order to excavate limestone for the cement plant that once employed half the people in my tiny town, including my Grandpa Bill. My mother and her four siblings swam there every summer day as kids. And, then, so did we. While Mom and other mothers chatted on blankets and bronzed their bodies with baby oil (this was the 1980s, after all!), we kids made our own fun. We dove for clams, caught bluegills in buckets, rocked on a giant inner tube (a legit inner tube from an old truck tire) and jumped off Flat Rock. Sometimes we stayed through lunch; sometimes we ate at home.
In the afternoon, the only rules were that we didn't leave our street and we didn't enter any house, including ours, except to use the bathroom. Ange and I would round up friends for baseball games in Dan Jay's yard or bike races up and down the street. During the 1984 Olympics, we hosted our own Bessemer Games, complete with paper medals strung on yarn. The year before, I'd choreographed a music video to Billy Joel's "The Longest Time" and bossed all the neighborhood kids around until they had the moves just right. Once, we built a lemonade stand with the help of Dan's next-door neighbor, the guy who stole the baseballs we hit into his yard to give to his grandkids. (In retrospect, I'm not sure this conspiracy theory is true.) We sold sugary drinks to generous neighbors for a few days, until Dan and I came to blows over our how to spend our revenue. He wanted G.I. Joe guys; I can't remember what I wanted. Probably school supplies. We shuttered the business.
Angelo and I would stay out all day until Mom called us in for dinner. Then we'd eat, shower and put on PJs to watch "Fraggle Rock," sitting on the floor with a special treat — often a root beer float, or a Dilly Bar from the bag my dad picked up at the Dairy Queen. We'd brush our teeth and go to bed. And do it all again the next day. Delicious.
When I look through a more objective lens, I see that Julian and Kai's summers have all of the same ingredients. They play ball outside — often in organized leagues and camps, but also in the backyard and at the park down the street on nights and weekends. They ride bikes through our neighborhood, and increasingly with friends in place of parents. Unlike me, they've also had the opportunity to level up their skills at mountain biking camps.
Farm camps approximate the exploration and free play I enjoyed as a kid, layering on a healthy understanding of food systems and life cycles that I certainly didn't have at their ages. Painting, drawing, photography and stop-motion animation camps have exposed Jules and Kai to a wide variety of artistic techniques and media. More importantly, they've guided the guys through the process of effective creative collaboration. (Life learnings that might have saved our lemonade stand and made my music video a more pleasant experience for everyone involved.)
We visit swimming holes on weekends. Most years, we're able to make a beach vacation happen — largely because Jon and I both work. We go camping several times a summer. We paddle our canoe down the LaPlatte River. Eat dinner at the town beach and stay till the sun sets. Go out for creemees. In our backyard, we have a Slip 'n Slide, soccer nets, corn hole boards and a badminton net the boys bought Jon for Father's Day. We use them often.
So, Jessica Scott, now having consumed your words approximately 900 times, and having had a chance to digest them properly, I realize it's not you who was making me feel anxious and annoyed. It was me. And when I stop looking for a winner between the life I've made for my family and the one I was served as a kid, I realize that summer delicious, like any delicious, comes in many flavors. That one person's Dairy Queen Dilly Bar is another's maple creemee. That I've had the great privilege of indulging in two very different summer cuisines, each made of many courses, each created with all the love and resources available. And if that's not perspective, I don't know what is.