How to have a vintage summer

It's no shocker that we live in an era of organized sports, scheduled playdates and endless summer camps. In today's busy world, parents often dedicate their summers to shuttling children (sometimes as young as 3 years old) back and forth to all sorts of planned events. While there's a lot to be said for that, I often wonder if all of this structure has robbed our children of the ability to create their own fun. 

When I was young, there was no such thing as a "summer schedule." Instead, my older sister and I would buddy up with the neighborhood kids and spend entire days playing backyard games that involved nothing more than our imaginations and maybe a rusty tin can or two. For hours, we'd run around playing Freeze Tag, Red Light/Green Light, Red Rover, Ghost in the Graveyard and Kick the Can. The rules were loose, seniority ruled and tattling to a parent was completely out of the question. Left to our own devices, we learned how to resolve silly conflicts, were inspired to move our bodies and used our imaginations.

On rainy days, we'd spend hours upon hours watching games shows and soap operas, but as soon as the sun peeked out from behind the clouds, we'd head back outside without having to be told twice.  iPhones hadn't been invented, and if we wondered how something worked, chances are we took it apart and found out. No one was ever bored, despite days languishing on for eternity, and summers felt simple, easy and totally blissful.  

Last year, as the world went into lockdown and families were forced into a slower pace, many people realized just how much they missed those days gone by. We had been so consumed by our hectic lives and schedules that we'd almost completely forgotten what it was like to have nothing to do, and going back to being unscheduled felt delightfully strange. 

Instead of heading off to crowded public swimming pools, kids ran through sprinklers and cooled off by sucking on freezer pops. Parents, trying their best to find ways to block out some of the frightening information on their news feeds, turned off their phones and headed outside. We grilled, we worked in the yard and we talked to our neighbors over the fence, but we didn't have any pressing social obligations that loomed overhead. 

For the first time in decades, families had the opportunity to have a vintage summer. Watching the kids slide so easily into a retro lifestyle made us adults miss our childhoods a little less and proved that life really is what you make of it.

This summer, as life's crazy trajectory gets back on track, try to remember how good it felt to slow down for a while.  Make a point to spend days doing absolutely nothing, and if your kids start to complain of boredom, remind them how much fun they had last summer. Send them outside and tell them they aren't allowed back in unless someone is bleeding or they've been called for a meal. (This may sound extreme, but trust me, it works.) Once they've been playing for an hour or two and have worked up a good sweat, reward them with giant glasses of ice-cold, red Kool-Aid and bologna sandwiches. Trust me, they'll think you're cooler than the water they're about to drink straight from the garden hose.   

Lana Shovlin is a freelance writer and mom of three who is looking forward to a summer at home with her family.