Calvin: Do you know what day it is?
Hobbes: Nope. Why?
Calvin:Oh, no reason. I was just curious. . . . I sure like summer vacation.
Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes
In the spring, the great beneficiary of my employment situation was the dog. She was guaranteed a long walk every morning, in addition to an evening stroll, and had someone with thumbs available to open the back door whenever she found herself on the wrong side of the barrier.
Now it’s the boys who benefit from having me at home. Not that they’re at home much; since school ended, they’ve been roaming in a semi-feral pack up and down the alley between my house and their friend Pat’s. They check in for food, band-aids, and occasional referee services, but otherwise I know where they are just by the relative volume of boy shouts.
I think it’s generally a good thing for kids to have some unstructured, wild, wide-open time in the summer. Normally, they’d be at the park day camp all summer, which involves a lot of supervised playground time but also swimming lessons, group activities, and field trips. Their unstructured time was in the evening, from about four o’clock until the street lights come on; a good chunk of time, but not the kind of unstructured time I remember as a kid. (I feel sometimes like I grew up in the 1950s instead of the 1970s; my mother stayed home until I was about thirteen, and we usually lived in the safe, clean, subtly-supervised world of military housing, which resembled, and may still resemble, Beaver Cleaver’s subdivision.)
Unstructured time with other kids teaches them important lessons in following rules, making decisions, and sticking up for themselves, in addition to wearing them out. I’ve been called in less and less often to referee disagreements, and they seem happy to have found their spot in the pack: as two of the younger kids on the block, they don’t get to call as many tunes, but the other kids recognize that many games are more fun with more participants, so they get included in most activities. They also have a good sense of propriety–some of it natural, some of it subtly instilled through Cub Scouts (I’m a firm believer in Scouting as “a game with a purpose,” and make sure that all of our den meetings include lessons in fair play, inclusiveness, and good sportsmanship)–so I feel comfortable peeking in on them only about once an hour if I don’t hear screaming or smell smoke. I’m not quite the perfect idle parent, but I lean toward that end of the spectrum.
Alas, some structure will be imposed in the next few weeks, whether I find regular employment or not. They’ll be taking some morning classes at the middle school down the street, maybe a little music camp, and evening swimming and baseball. This imposition of structure has been met with significant unhappiness, of course; once they get to a class, they’re enthusiastic and excited, but there’s a hurdle to climb to get there.
A little structure is good for them, I think, and good for me, too. There’s plenty of summer surrounding the morning and evening activities, and I’ll be pressing them into service on another project that will require occasional field trips. Learning how to manage unstructured time is an important lesson, but so is learning to follow Dad’s recommendations.