Summer is without a doubt my favorite season.
I think Janis Joplin probably sang it best: “Summertime, child, the living’s easy.”
I love living in the sunshine. I feel as if negative feelings defrost in the sunlight, bringing out happiness and joy and a willingness to live hard and play hard, to be wild at heart. Summer smells like childhood to me, like sweet watermelon, ripe peaches, pineapple-coconut suntan lotion, chlorine, saltwater and vanilla ice cream. We get so much sunshine in California, yet I never tire of it. Never. I would spend 365 days a year under the sun if I could, cooling off in a swimming pool in someone’s backyard, a smoky grill nearby, smelling of charcoal and a hint of gas. Because, to me, that’s summertime.
I grew up living the quintessential California lifestyle near the beach. My sister and I and our friends spent entire summers by the Pacific Ocean, barefoot, our noses and shoulders sore from too much sun, our long hair braided with sand and salt down our backs, twisted and knotted like driftwood. We spent our summer months running wild through crashing waves, our lithe bodies browned and bruised from falling down and getting back up, only to be knocked down once again. I felt fearless back then, getting tumbled and tossed inside waves like laundry in a dryer, not caring if I was held under for what seemed like minutes.
In ways, I can’t imagine watching my boys do this now. I have panic attacks when I see them enter water as it is, their skin preemptively doused in sunscreen, wearing hats and swim diapers, with flotation devices nearby. Modern parenting involves a series of cautions and precautions and protective gear. I fear all sorts of things for them, drowning being the worst. Did my parents worry about us like this back in the 70s, when we frolicked alone on the beach? I doubt it. Back then, I think ignorance was bliss.
My boys already have such a different childhood. I fear their lives are centered too much around screens and being indoors. To get to the beach, we drive miles and miles in frustrating traffic, searching for a space on the overcrowded sand that isn’t taken by another family with the same idea. We orchestrate an entire day around the beach, packing endless bags and gear for the kids, only to feel like we’re forcing ourselves to have fun once we get there, because all the effort put into just getting there needs to feel justified.
As a child, it was all so organic, sometimes we walked to the beach and we didn’t take much with us, just a willingness to play and our towels. We didn’t wear sunscreen or hats. We let our skin burn, we let ourselves fall hard on sand and rocks that cut our toes until they sometimes bled, saltwater from the ocean our hydrogen peroxide. We showed up on the beach and played for hours until the sun started setting and our parents had to tear us away.
As the boys get older, I’m so aware of the stark contrasts in how they are growing up and how I grew up as a child. They are living so much more of an isolated, urban existence and I want more for them. I have to laugh when I “arrange” summer play dates with other parents, or while signing my oldest up for summer camps with hefty fees, that guarantee calculated “fun” for your child. It makes me sad at the same time. Gone are the days of allowing your kids to leave for the neighbor’s house in the morning and not seeing them again until they came home for dinner, dirty and sweaty and exhausted. That was how I spent my summers as a child, running the streets with our pack of neighborhood ragamuffins, no hovering helicopter parents to be found.
With all of our cautiousness, are our children that much safer today?
I have to tear my own boys away from TV screens and iPads and iPhones and apps, like my own mom used to have to tear us away from building clubhouses in trees, from playing ditch ’em in the streets until dark.
Although I find myself doing everything to prevent it, deep down, I want my boys to get dirty and sunburnt and windblown, with bruises on their shins, this summer.
I want them to scrape their knees on rocks and shells and hunt for sand crabs until sunset.