The lost art of summer nothing | VailDaily.com
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The lost art of summer nothing

Alex Miller
Alex Miller
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“So, what’s the plan today?” the oldest boy asks.The implication is that I have some kind of grand itinerary lined up for this Saturday in summer. Horseback riding, perhaps, followed by lunch at the Ritz and an afternoon whitewater rafting, after which we’re off to Denver for a show.”What plan?” I respond, usually accompanied by references to cleaning the garage as a perfectly acceptable summertime activity. If he hasn’t wisely retreated yet, I’ll wheel out something about “when I was a kid.” How, on summer days, my siblings and I got up early and got the hell out of the house if my dad was home. The man worked two jobs, but his inability to relax meant that, even when he was off, he was tackling all manner of domestic tasks – from doing a brake job on the Oldsmobile to painting the house to, yes, cleaning the garage or basement.Once free, though, we certainly didn’t look to our parents for entertainment. Even if they had something fun to do, the chance that they might come up with some post-fun work was too great a risk to allow us to stick around. Nope, when I was a kid, the neighborhood was one vast playground, and the notion of structured activities like “fun clubs” or soccer camps and the like was largely alien. I can’t recall being bored, although I’m sure it happened. But I also think we had a higher tolerance for low levels of activity back then in the pre-Nintendo era. Kids today may have indolence down as well as we did, but they seem to lack the ability to make a little something out of nothing. In my Long Island neighborhood, we could spend hours digging in dirt in the backyard, or exploring caterpillar nests behind the grammar school. Often, our forays took us to the forbidden “sump” – a storm runoff facility best described as a waterless pond.Surrounded by forbidding fence topped with barbed wire, the sump had several access points created by kids; bowed-in sections where those in the under-100-pound set could slither through. Once inside, there wasn’t much to do and no danger to speak of, but the fact that we were in forbidden territory was apparently thrill enough.Something else we did back then was simply pop by friends’ houses. That doesn’t seem to happen today, as everything needs to be prearranged with play dates and parental meet-ups to address our anxieties about what kind of homes our children might be visiting. For all my parents knew, my friend John Scarola’s house had a munitions dump in the basement. Mostly, though, we just watched old Japanese monster movies on Channel 11 while drinking fruit punch.At the risk of sounding like a coot in training, kids today just seem to be less self-sufficient in the entertaining-themselves realm – and this is no more apparent than in summer, when free time abounds. Or is it we parents who have robbed them of their natural inclination to roam at will with our hand-wringing, helmet-wearing culture? It’s hard not to think we’re raising a generation of incurious, apprehensive homebodies afraid to venture past the cyber worlds of the Playstation or their iTunes collection.Summer moms used to shoo the kids out the door in the morning and see them only at lunch and dinner. Dirty, tired and hungry, we’d shuffle home at dusk and give the universal response to parental inquiries of our doings: “Nothing.”Somehow, it was a glorious thing, all that freedom and unstructured time. With cycles being what they are, maybe our kids will lighten up and our grandchildren will have a crack at it. One can only hope.Alex Miller can be reached at 748-2931, or amiller@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado


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