By Julie Samrick
As we sat around the campfire last weekend I pulled out an old Girl Scout goody for the 11 kids in our party. My Aunt Tilly, she died last night, she died last night, did she die?
At first the kids didn’t know what I meant, or why sometimes the answer is yes, she did die, while other times the answer is no. The kids, who range in age from 6 to 12, got into it, their eyes getting bigger and brighter than the campfire. Soon they all surrounded me, pleading, “Say it again! I won’t be able to sleep tonight until I figure it out!”
Their code cracking theories were varied, thoughtful and impressive. The best part was seeing them so engrossed it took me right back to when I was 11-years-old and also tried to decipher the riddle at sleep away camp, where I spent a week every summer during middle school with my best friend from home and plenty of new friends we’d meet along the way. There we didn’t have tents, but slept directly under the stars, and by the fourth or fifth day the letters from home always made us so homesick we’d cry. One summer we spent the whole week trying to figure out ‘My Aunt Tilly’ and there’d be variations on it the next summer and the next, growing just as our bonds did.
Last weekend a 10-year-old boy in our group chopped wood like a lumberjack as my sons watched in awe. With his safety glasses on he struck the ax into the center of a tree stump, showing proficiency beyond his years. With parents who grew up in the Sierra Nevada region, he was practicing one of his own family’s passed down skills and the rest of us got to learn by watching.
Later that day one of the fathers in our group brought a 30-foot fishing pole down to the beach. While it was a novelty to us, his own kids knew all about it and weren’t fazed when he’d wade out into the water to cast his line.
Another mom I know grew up spending summers out on her dad’s ski boat. Today she borrows her dad’s boat after work on summer evenings and is confident taking just her three kids alone. I’m always amazed she doesn’t need to wait for any other adult to help. I predict her children will most likely feel pulled to do the same with their own kids someday.
The best part about summer vacation is when we’re afforded the time for such simple pleasures, which is really the best kind of summer school.
When my own kids weren’t yet in school yet they’d learn many things by osmosis, or simply by hanging out with me all day. Now many of those lessons are packed into the long days of summer.
This is why I purposely don’t sign them up for lots of camps and activities; life is filled enough with deadlines and restrictions. Summer is the perfect time to regroup and recharge. The word detoxing even comes to mind.
Sure, there are good reasons for year-round school: so much academic learning can be lost during the summer months for one thing. Yet, by spending time together the skills gained, life lessons learned and opportunities to share our past are priceless in return.