I've seen summer vacation from both sides of the desk. When I was a kid, summer meant staying up late and sleeping in, riding my bike up to Carytown or the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts whenever I pleased and spending weekends at the pool with my family. Released from the tyranny of teachers, tests and, most important, alarm clocks, I was free to do my own thing until Labor Day weekend, when I'd have to start looking forward to the next summer, so very far away.
Then I grew up and became a teacher and … seriously? There wasn't a kid in my class who looked forward to that final day in mid-June more than I did. I loved the kids, don't get me wrong, but was it ever sweet to say goodbye to grading papers and doing lesson plans for 10 whole weeks. I get all giddy just remembering it.
This is The Boy's first hard-earned summer. After a full year of preschool, of learning to do difficult things like line up and sit quietly and raise his hand to talk, he approached summer with a whole different mindset than he had in years past. He looked forward to swimming and Popsicles, like always, but this year summer meant something bigger than all of that. Something serious. Summer meant NO SCHOOL.
On the first day of summer vacation, he approached me halfway through the day, looking suspicious. "So this is like spring break," he challenged, as if he were trying to catch me pulling something over on him. "And when it's over, I'll still have to go back to school!"
"Well, yeah, it's like spring break, but a lot longer," I said. Then I put my hand on his shoulder and looked him in the eye. "Buddy, summer vacation is so long that by the time it's over, you'll be 5." That seemed to satisfy him, because turning 5 had been dangling before him enticingly for so long at that point that it seemed impossibly far off. Confident in the knowledge that summer vacation would be around for a long, long time, he got down to the business of enjoying himself.
How has he enjoyed himself? Let me count the ways. He's taken in the newly expanded museum with Baboo (he was quite intrigued by the giant gold rabbit, not so fond of headless Saint Denis), caught fireflies and reacquainted himself with his old friends at Cartwheels and Coffee, where he used to be a regular in the lazy, hazy days before he became a clock-punching preschooler. He's stayed up well past his usual bedtime, assembling and reassembling Lego robots without a care for tomorrow, and frequently when I leave for work, he is still snoring. This, my friends, is what summer is all about.
More than anything, though, summer is about family — in our world, at least. And weekends this summer have mostly found The Boy at Uncle Ronnie's, splashing in the pool with his cousins while a steady stream of aunts, uncles and might-as-well-be-related family friends lounge on deck chairs and towels, swapping stories, sipping cold drinks and nodding their heads to the Beatles, Bowie and Elton John pouring out of Ronnie's iPod dock.
When I was The Boy's age, enjoying my first post-school summer, the soundtrack was the same, but the source was the jukebox at St. Anthony's Recreation Center, and the pool was a lot more crowded. When I hear certain songs, I can almost feel the wet asphalt under my feet again after all these decades.
When The Boy looks back on this particular summer, maybe when someone puts on "Ziggy Stardust" in 2050, I hope he'll think about a 90-degree afternoon when he was just a little guy, surrounded by cousins and sparkling blue water, without a care in the world beyond whether to eat a burger or a hot dog, and would there be ice cream later?
The last question is, of course, moot. There is always ice cream later. He's new at this. He'll learn.