Summer vacation has become more magical to me as a parent than it was as a child. 

Before kindergarten, my kids were in preschool pretty much all year round. Like all working parents, what to do with my kids for eight-ish weeks in the summer was a bit of a rude awakening. Like a lot of working parents whose kids are in private school, I pay that tuition throughout the year. So essentially in the summer, I’m double paying. I’m paying for next year’s school and right now camps. 

We’ve all had conversations about how summer vacation is a relic of an agrarian calendar and hostile to dual-income families and should change. I was totally nodding along with the people saying that…until…My kids got old enough for us to have insanely fun summers together. 

My kids are six and seven, and I just adore summer vacation now. I am exhausted. I am always sweaty. I am always confused at what camp we are in or what time the kids need to be picked up on any given week. I have to work late nights and early mornings and weekends and very, very long hours on the days and nights they are with their dad. Productivity is a challenge, and I spend more money than I have. 

But every summer gets that much better, and I know all too soon they’ll come to an end. I love our annual trip to the South for the 4th of July with baseball games and fireworks and flags and ice cream and endless days catching my kids while they jump off the side of a pool. I love our annual trip to Tahoe with its tubing and hiking and gorgeous scenery and more endless days catching my kids while they jump off the side of a pool. I love their excitement as they rat-a-tat-tat tell me about their first day at a new camp. I love the array of camps in San Francisco: Fairytale camp, science camp, wilderness camp, art camp, secret agent camp. There are too many to cram into one summer and they’re always sad they only have a week of each. I love the long slow evenings spent with kids of other ages, while the parents all sip wine and relax. I love messy sleepovers with kids all in a pile of sweaty, tan arms and legs. I love watching my kids trying to look cool as they talk to older kids, and basking in being cool when they hang out with younger kids. 

Summers push my kids out of their comfort zones in ways the school year doesn’t, whether it’s the outdoor adventures they take on, the new food I make them try, or the new people they have to find a way to get along with. I get to watch them grow up in front of my eyes in a way I don’t during the school year, not least because I only see them a few hours a day during the school year. 

They need this break. They work so hard during the year and are at school from 8am to 5pm and then have homework. They need months of endless summer days, of dirt under their fingernails, of green hair from all the chlorine, of staying up late because they don’t have to be anywhere until 9am the next morning and even then, it’s just camp. The feeling of falling asleep and you can still feel the ripples of phantom waves against your back. 

The other day, I read a piece in the Washington Post about how modern life has “slashed and burned the core features of childhood” as it was for thousands of years.  

“Childhood is unique to humans. Our primate cousins debut into the world after weaning as more-or-less independent juveniles. But Homo sapiens’ children stick around. Years after weaning, they are still in our care. This long period of dependence gives humans time to master the enormous number of skills we need to become successful adults…

…In the past 10,000 years — a barely perceptible sliver of evolutionary time — virtually every feature of childhood has changed, particularly in industrialized societies. Instead of growing up in a mixed-age collective, our children spend most of their time indoors with same-age peers. Gone are the days of evading grown-ups: Constant supervision is expected. Recess, the last vestige of free play, is on the brink of extinction. I contributed to this myself as a camp counselor, shepherding kids to structured activities, convinced that by teaching them rules or settling their disputes, I was helping them grow.

I don’t think this anymore.”

There are necessary aspects to modern life that have created what the author laments. I live far from family because of my work, and so my kids have less time with cousins and other mixed-age gatherings. And they need a lot of supervision living in a city like San Francisco where we don’t take care of the poor and the mentally ill. Internet trolls and online hate have, at times, meant my kids even needed security. More broadly, it only takes a regularly scheduled drill on what to do in the case of a school shooting to hammer home the reasons some of us have become overprotective helicopter parents. In many ways, society no longer cares for our kids, so we have to do more. The risks otherwise are just too great.

And, yet, summer gives us a moment to go back in time. This past weekend, my kids got to roam free with no shoes on, to jump in rivers and lakes with abandon, to eat fruit off trees that hadn’t been washed, to hang out with people of all ages, and to above all definitely not be indoors. Here are just a few Chairman Mom threads about summer vacation if you want to share your experiences and advice…

Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom:

* * * *