A ‘What Are We Going to Do Today?’ Summer

EDITOR’S NOTE: Elizabeth Hofreuter-Landini authored this column.

Summer has arrived with her long, warm days full of infinite possibilities. The air is complete with the smell of Coppertone and the sound of children splashing in water and sprinting through the sprinkler. Somewhere a card table is being unfolded and a future entrepreneur is setting prices for a Kool-Aid stand. Plans are in place for a neighborhood Kick-the-Can game after dinner.

Wait! That was summer circa 1977 on Poplar Avenue in Wheeling. That is the summer I wish I could give my children – a throwback summer.

Even though I am in education, I, like many parents, work in the summer. Summer planning begins in March when we line up all the camp opportunities and chart out the weeks when school is out – more daycare than summer fun if I am being truthful. It’s not that I don’t want my children in these camps. We are so fortunate to have such wonderful opportunities in our area.

I am more than grateful that my oldest daughter spends a week with Tim Thompson on the stage of the Towngate Theatre. I wouldn’t want her to miss that. We have even planned vacation around it. I am thrilled that she is knee deep in the creek building a “filtration system” at Wheeling Country Day’s Creek Week and then splashing her way down a makeshift slip ‘n slide fashined from an old billboard (thanks to Lamar) in the afternoon.

It’s just that neither child has any idea what it is like to wake up in the morning and wonder, “What are we going to do today?” Well, that’s not entirely true. After all, they do occasionally watch “Phineas and Ferb” on the Disney Channel (parents know who I mean), but they have never lived it.

When I was my daughter’s age, we had to fill our days. We invented, created, problem-solved and lived adventures on the wheels of a bike. We had streetlong hide-and-seek games. We went to the pool with a towel, not a bag of toys to entertain us because the water alone was enough to spark the imagination. We went (without an adult) to the Minute Market for a drink to cool off. Indeed, for an entire day, Carter Clarke and I stood in the middle of Poplar Avenue and threw a water balloon back and forth so many times that we called this very newspaper and reported our heroic efforts.

I want my daughters to navigate a pickup game of baseball (or softball) where there are no umpires or even bases. They would learn to negotiate batting lineups, recognize the strengths and weaknesses of friends and include them anyway.

For our children in 2012, a softball game means arriving to an already lined, pristine field not finding odds and ends to determine first, second, third and home. The air isn’t filled with negotiation; it is too often filled with the voices of adults stealing the element of play out of “playing ball.” There is no problem solving for there are coaches on the basepaths, in the dugout and in almost every seat in the stands, too. Don’t get me wrong, I was a third base coach this summer. I am not against organized sports for children. It is just a shame that they don’t also know the art of the pickup game just as well.

Maybe my 4-year-old summed it up best. I picked her up from camp one day and asked, “How was it?” She replied, “It was ‘Do this’ camp.” I was perplexed. She explained: “Every minute someone was saying ‘do this’ and ‘do this.’?

For the rest of this summer, I vow to teach my girls to embrace, “What can I go out and do today?” – what summer was like when I was little. I can’t believe I have to teach them, but they’ll catch on quickly. If you see them selling Kool-Aid one hot day in July, try not to think about the nutritional content (as I will be doing), and remember summer circa 1977. We will be up for a massive game of Kick-the-Can if you are – you just have to promise to let the kids organize it.

– Linda Krulock graduated from West Liberty State College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in elementary education and early childhood. She teaches senior kindergarten at Wheeling Country Day School. Elizabeth Hofreuter-Landini is head of school at Wheeling Country Day. She is a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard University Graduate School of Education.