No more pencils/ no more books/ no more teachers’ dirty looks/ Out for summer/ out till fall/ We might not go back at all
— S chool’s Out by rocker Alice Cooper
Midmorning one day last week I was greeted at my front door by the shrieks of children across the street. The decibel level, simultaneously urgent and carefree, signaled only one thing: Kids hard at play. The rising mercury, the insufferable humidity, the threatening clouds — all those seasonal weather conditions that temper adult attitudes — seemed to hardly matter to them.
As the day progressed I stopped my work to peek out at this rare occurrence. At one point, the boys were jumping on a trampoline. Then they were riding bikes. Later, they were cavorting about the yard. Their racket reminded me of when my own children were young and the two-month summer break stretched before us like saltwater taffy from a carnival midway.
School’s out, and with it comes the freedom from homework, projects and, as Alice Cooper so aptly put it in his 1972 hit, teachers’ dirty looks. I cannot think of a single experience that matches the liberating feeling of the last class bell in June. Oh, the glory of endless hours with nothing on the calendar! Even in adulthood that sense of abandon, or the memory of it, still tastes sweet, namely because few professions allow for such a lengthy break from the workplace.
Cooper, with his thick makeup and theatrical antics, had a special fondness for the start of summer vacation. He wrote what would become the anthem of the season after being asked about the greatest three minutes of his life. He named two — Christmas morning and “the last three minutes of the last day of school when you’re sitting there and it’s like a slow fuse burning.”
Whether you have school-aged children or not, summer still invites a more languid lifestyle. Maybe it’s the heat that encourages a slower pace. Or the long days that suggest infinite possibilities. Or the improved commute that makes going to work a bit more pleasant. Or the promise of an upcoming beachside vacation that promises to turn life’s annoyances (flat tires, sick pets, tantruming children, broken appliances) into tolerable, even comical, contretemps.
Yet, summer isn’t what it used to be, or what I remember. I don’t mean to sound obnoxiously nostalgic, but the truth is that children playing on neighborhood streets is a practice threatened with extinction, just like trick-or-treating at Halloween. More and more kids are enrolled in organized activities, a reflection of the long-running migration of mothers into the workplace. Structure has muscled into summer.
Today’s kids enjoy math camp and magic camp, learn dance moves and perfect their batting swing. When they’re older, they intern in research labs and corporate offices to polish their resumes. That’s great. I envy those opportunities I never had.
At the same time, however, I hold fast to the belief that there should be a place for the free-roaming child, for the kid catching tadpoles or pedaling down the block to fish with a friend, for tree climbing, sidewalk skating and jungle gym swinging. Maybe that’s why the happy din of the neighborhood kids sounded both rare and charming to me, as full of magic and promise as that first morning of summer vacation, when the shrillness of the school bell is nothing but a faraway dream.
Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.