So it’s the first official week of summer and the internet is jammed up with statistics promoting the benefits of giving kids a free-range summer (as opposed to structured camp sessions – another guilt trip for working parents) and nostalgic remembrances of lazy 70’s summer days filled with catching frogs in the creek and pick-up baseball games.

I’m a child of the 70’s…and despite my advanced age, I remember those summers well – and I don’t remember them quite the same way.  The first week of freedom was GREAT! But by the end of the 3rd week we were hot, bored, and everyone was fighting.  Not exactly the idyllic stuff of these articles.

Catching frogs at the creek?  Our “creek” was in the wooded area just off the highway.  That was also where the teenagers hung out smoking cigarettes and weed.  Kids were not welcome there and were chased away.  Unlimited hours at the movies sneaking from one theater to the next?  If I recall, movie theaters in the 70’s had just one screen – the multiplexes didn’t come into existence until the 80’s or 90’s.  Catching ladybugs? Yhea, that was fun for about 15 minutes – and someone usually got stung by a bee (#thatwouldbeme).

Indeed, we had lots of unstructured “free” time…in front of the TV.  The morning started with a box of PopTarts and hefty dose of “I Love Lucy,” followed by “My Three Sons,” “The Flying Nun,” and top off the sitcom marathon with the families Brady and Partridge.  By that time, the soap operas would start and the neighborhood TV’s were taken over by moms and we kids were  kicked outside with a bologna or tuna fish sandwich and, if you were lucky, a can of Pringles.

Of course there was a hierarchy – the older kids wanted nothing to do with their younger siblings and that had a trickle-down effect, leaving the younger ones to run back inside, usually in tears, because they were being left out – only to be booted back outside because the moms were trying to watch their stories.

My BFF’s Linda, Patricia, and I spent a lot of time riding our bikes around the block – round and round aimlessly – until we got tired or bored (or both) and asked our mothers for a $1.50 to buy an ice cream cone at Friendlys.  Then we got back on our bikes and rode around again.  Sometimes we went to the park and rode around there or went on the swings.  There wasn’t much else to do. Sometimes we walked to the strip mall and looked at make-up at the drugstore or went to the book store where the owner watched us like a hawk.

On some days there were errands.  Grocery store, butcher, dry cleaners, bakery, etc…  We would all pile into the car and fight over the front seat or who was touching whom.  Between the heat and humidity (in our non-air conditioned car) and the arguing, my mom was a frazzled mess by the time we got home.  Then she would tell us to “Go. And don’t come back until dinnertime.” Everyone was angry at each other and blaming the others for “starting it.” And we usually got a lecture from my step-dad that evening on how everyone has to get along and be nicer to mom.

We did things like put on performances and plays in our garage.  We wanted to use the bedsheets as curtains (not allowed) and someone was always whining because their role wasn’t big enough, or didn’t like that they were being “bossed around” by whomever was “in charge” of the play.

We did dangerous things too.  We walked on the train tracks even though we had been warned not to.  We gave each other rides on the handlebars of our bikes (again, warned not to) and I continued to do so until I fell off and fractured my wrist.  A few of the older boys were doing something  with fireworks in their garage and burned it down.

Occasionally we went to my aunt’s pool.  We would play Marco Polo and dive for coins and practice our cannonballs.  Those were fun days.  Sometimes we’d pile in the (non-air conditioned) car and go to the Jersey shore for the day or, occasionally, an amusement park – those were the best days of the summer because they broke up the monotony of the everyday.

After dinner, the kids in the neighborhood (including those who went to camp) would play manhunt or baseball at the four corners where our street intersected the next block – inevitably there were a few broken windows every summer. Someone’s feelings were always hurt when they were picked last and the older boys usually tried to monopolize the games and changed the rules when it suited them.

By the time I was twelve, my mom had enough of my laying about all summer and whining that I was “bored” – Patricia had gone to Ireland to visit her grandparents for the summer, and Linda went to the Y’s day camp.  The only kids that were around were a bunch of boys  – my mother wisely didn’t want her daughter being the lone girl among a group of pre-teen and teen boys. One of my mother’s friends was looking for a mother’s helper to give her a hand with her three young children (ages 1, 3, and 6) and volunteered me for the job.  The family paid me $1.25 per hour (!!!!!) to watch the three children at their pool and tennis club.  Whatever possessed Mrs. P. to trust a 12 year old with her three babies at a swimming pool I will never know!  But I liked having something to do every day and a little (and I mean a little) money in my pocket.  I’ve worked almost every summer since then.

Yes, those unstructured, lazy summer days were sometimes fun, we had to entertain ourselves (or not) because there was no one to do it for us, but I’m not sure that it was any “better” than my son’s summers filled with more sort-of-structured camp activities. This week at camp they went to a park where the kids played their own pick-up games of basketball and soccer for four hours, another day they went to the local Y to use a ropes/tree climbing course, another day they went to an ice rink to skate, yesterday they went to the science center in Hartford, and today they’re kayaking on the Long Island Sound.  He’s meeting new kids and having an opportunity for adventure – just like I had – complete with bologna sandwiches.

And there hasn’t been a single, “I’m bored,”…yet…but then again, it’s only the first week.

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