Tag Archives: unstructured play

A Kinder, Gentler Sort of Summer

9781532071621_pap_FQA.inddI don’t remember my summers as a kid being the least bit hectic, never mind structured. As I recall, summer was an exercise in deliverance and spontaneity—an intoxicating river of endless days and weeks, blurred at the edges, verdant at its core, punctuated by dozens upon dozens of delicious remembrances that pool in the corners of my mind even still.

There was no glorified schedule or master plan that bound me to times or places, unless you consider the regularity with which my dad and I watched late-night Yankees games together in our living room, the ceaseless drone of the big box fan humming in the background like a raspy biplane. There were no obligatory to-do-list items I felt necessarily compelled to realize before heading back to school either, except, of course, the ones that involved harvesting baseball cards, tooling around on my banana seat bike and acquiring a new pair of Converse All-Stars. Low-tops. Black.

Summer was a time to relax, recondition and, on occasion, run away from home—an impulsive act of stupidity, inspired largely by gypsies and like-minded 11-year-olds who felt stifled by boundaries of the parental variety. But I digress. Of all the seasons of my childhood, summer was far and away the most delectable.

That said, my younger brother and I practically lived in our backyard swimming pool, until the laze and haze of August segued into the rush of September, its bright yellow school buses and freshly waxed floors jolting us back to a different sort of reality. When we weren’t paddling around in big, rubber inner tubes or diving to the bottom in search of stones or coins, we could be found at the water’s edge immersed in a game of checkers on a giant beach towel, an island of sundrenched bliss. Other days we’d disappear deep into the woods, climbing trees and cobbling together all manner of poorly constructed forts with a motley crew of neighborhood kids, hammers and nails we pilfered from our fathers and wood scraps we managed to haul there, one armload after another. Brambles and poison ivy be damned.

We logged countless hours of Wiffle ball and badminton, too, threw Frisbees at dusk till no one could reliably see and lay in the cool grass, pausing just long enough to watch the vermillion skies fade to purple, then to wooly gray and eventually, to an inky black canvas dotted with a smattering of stars—some bright, some barely discernible as the shroud of night consumed every tree, thicket and barefoot child in its path. Multitudes of fireflies took center stage then, materializing out of nothingness it seemed, ushering in the goodness of many a summer’s night.

Shortly thereafter, we assembled the masses for hide-and-seek, a spirited game hopelessly devoted to perpetuity and the governance of an ungodly amount of acreage, encompassing the far reaches of one’s neighborhood long after the woods grew thick with mosquitos and alive with a chorus of crickets. Sweat-soaked and breathless from giving chase, we eventually headed home, having heard the familiar thwack of a certain screen door coupled with our parents’ demands to come inside, signaling an end to this and so many good nights of summer. But our bedrooms would soon be dappled with the morning sunlight, and the promise of yet another endless day of summer beckoned unremittingly.

By today’s standards, I fear what I’ve described above would qualify as dreadfully dull. There were no cell phones to speak of, no iPads in existence and not a single app involving demonic monkeys or angry birds had been so much as imagined. By and large, moms didn’t run taxi services for their children in the summertime. Nor did they farm them out to an embarrassment of camps or overload their schedules with a glut of culture and tutelage and the insanity that fuels organized sports.

Times were simpler then. Less harried, and more memorable, methinks. Perhaps because the tapestry of summer was woven at a kinder, gentler pace, helping us all to find joy in the ordinary.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (remembering when summer was really summer). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom. The content of this article, as it appears here, was previously published in the Khaleej Times.

Copyright 2012 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, A Tree is Nice, Endless Summer, Gratitude

The Road Less Traveled

I remember it as if I were standing before it this very moment—the dirt road behind my childhood home that snaked through the mossy woods, carving a narrow, road-not-taken-inspired path along the base of a deep ravine, sheltered from the sun and from civilization it seemed. The place where a large and delicious chunk of my youth was spent surrounded by the pungent aroma of pine mixed with the earthy scent of decaying leaves and the ever-present drone of the creek that flowed nearby.

It was my Secret Garden. My sanctuary of sycamores, silver and red maples. My quiet corner of the world where I could commune with nature and collect my thoughts—one blissfully restorative trek at a time. Of course, I whiled away the hours there, exploring every inch of the road’s gritty surface, the rock-strewn banks of the creek and the heavily wooded hillside that was enshrouded with a verdant canopy of foliage in the thick of summer and dappled with patches of sunlight when the wispy green of spring first emerged. Season after season, I was drawn there, swallowed whole by its quiet grandeur, inextricably immersed in the sweet salvation of solitude and unstructured play. Alone but never quite lonely. The Last Child in the Woods, perhaps.

Eventually, though, my brother tagged along, curious to discover what was so special about this half-mile stretch of road and haven of towering trees that lapped at its fringes. He, too, became enthralled with all that it had to offer—untold numbers of fossils to inspect and collect, intriguing salamanders and caterpillars at every turn, ideally secluded spots for building clubhouses and spying on the occasional passerby, and perhaps most notably, an unforgiving and impossibly narrow footpath perched high atop a ridge where the region’s entirety could be viewed with ease. Naturally, there was an abundance of tree hollows, too, perfectly suited for stowing the trappings of childhood (i.e. spare jackknives, cap guns and spears we had fashioned from fallen branches).

On the cusp of spring, when the sun had finally begun to thaw the road and its deep, frozen furrows of mud, we’d barrel down the gully—half running, half sliding through the slushy snow that stubbornly clung to the ground and to the craggy tree trunks—eager to return to our long and winding road of dirt and stone. The summers we spent there—foraging through the woods, hiding out in our ramshackle forts and letting our dog run free—were ravenously consumed, chapters of our lives that I won’t soon forget. Never mind that my brother is no longer here to share such memories.

But if I could somehow turn back the time almost 14 years—the ones that have felt like 14 minutes—I’d remind him of a day in late autumn, when he couldn’t have been more than nine. It was an afternoon much like those we’ve experienced of late—a sun-drenched, breezy, balmy Indian summer gift—only the leaves back then had long since burst with color, painting the blue skies with fiery shades of orange and red. Not surprisingly, we were on the dirt road together. Back and forth we raced and chased along our favorite stretch, the tall trees roaring and swaying in the wind, tousling our hair and casting great swirls of leaves into the air for what seemed an eternity. Leaves we desperately tried to catch before they hit the ground. Because, of course, that was the whole point.

Of all the memories I’ve harvested involving my brother and our beloved dirt road, it is among my most cherished.

So as I witness my own children this autumn, completely engrossed in the rapture of chasing, leaping and wildly grabbing fistfuls of sky in an attempt to cleanly snatch the leaves before they fall to the street, drunk with joy and seizing the moment, instantly I return to the place I loved as a child and to the delicious day I spent with my brother.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (remembering well the road less traveled, and recognizing that it has made all the difference). Visit me there at www.facebook.com/NotesfromPlanetMom. The content of this article, as it appears here, was previously published in the Khaleej Times.

Copyright 2011 Melinda L. Wentzel

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Filed under "N" is for Nostalgia, A Tree is Nice, Gratitude, Love and Loss