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Reclaiming the old-fashioned summer
Tiffany Lewis gives tips for letting go of the schedule and reclaiming the old-fashioned summer. - photo by Tiffany Gee Lewis
Ill never forget the summer before fifth grade. I spent every day playing an endless game of Monopoly, eating blue and green Mr. Freeze ice pops and mastering the curb jump on my Pink Panther bike.

Thats it. No fancy summer camps. No road trips, except the one it took for us to move from Utah to Missouri. No family themes or bucket lists.

Yet it was probably the favorite summer of my childhood.

I think most parents long to replicate their own childhood for their kids, when summer days were so long you had time to get good and bored, when you ate nothing but frozen sugar water and lunch meat frizzed to a crisp in the microwave, when you wandered with friends to abandoned plots of land or the candy store.

For those of us who grew up in the 70s and 80s, that type of freedom seems as outdated as the original Macintosh computer, and for good reason. We live in a different world. Still, with a little effort we can replicate, at least in part, some of the gems from our younger years.

1. Allow for wide-open time

Im looking at the calendar for summer, and its already feeling too packed. In our fast-paced world, we feel the need to make sure every day has something: an art project, a water park, an outing to the arcade or a play date. In our minds, we think the entire summer should play out like a ride at Disneyland, cutting out the wait time. But when I step back and allow my kids to plan their own days, what they want is simplicity. For instance, the other day my husband asked my son what he wanted to do for a special outing. He was given the option of anything, from a movie to a fancy restaurant.

I want to go get ice cream, he said. Then I want to play Legos for 15 minutes. That was it! Request granted.

2. Dont play entertainer

I think, in part, what made my own childhood so great is that my parents were on the periphery. I dont know where my mom was, but she certainly wasnt playing Monopoly with me or counting the number of ice pops I snatched from the freezer. As parents, summer is a great time to take a step back and allow our kids more freedom. Purposely make yourself a little more unavailable. Thats where creativity and growth happen. When we step back, kids find they can solve their own problems. Encourage wandering outside the usual physical boundary. Send the kids on errands or encourage them to walk to a friends house instead of hitching a ride.

3. Share the screen time

A recent article in Real Simple magazine by Ada Calhoun pointed out that the childhoods of our era contained plenty of screen time, its just that we shared it all together. Everyone wasnt separated on their own devices. We might have watched The Neverending Story once a day for a month, crammed on the couch, but now we can recite all the lines together. It bonded us.

The hardest part of summer (and for that matter, modern parenting) is battling the plea for electronic devices. The solution: Make it shared, and then limit the rest. Encourage group screen time, like playing the Wii, watching a classic movie or finding a favorite family friendly series to watch together.

4. Dont make it perfect

Ill be honest. Instagram envy is real and ugly. My homemade frozen pops arent fruit-filled works of art. (Or even homemade, for that matter.) Ive never tried grilling great heaps of shucked corn, as delicious as it looks. I dont have striped tablecloths and striped beach towels and sun hats to match all my swimsuits. (I only have one swimsuit.) Part of that urge to fill the wide-open space of summer comes from guilt, that we wont be known as the fun mom, or the crafty mom, or the mom who takes drippy ice cream pictures in front of colored walls.

Creating that old-fashioned summer means making a mind shift. Our childhoods werent curated or posed. They grew organically from day to day. By stashing away both our expectations and the ubiquitous phone camera, we can remind ourselves that the best memories stay rooted in our minds, filtered by time, faded but not forgotten.
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