As the last days of August approach, my four young sons sleep late in the mornings and laze through the days. They haven't been to summer camp this year or attended classes. They have no schedule.
Instead, they swim and play badminton. They read (and read and read!) and write stories. They build things. They shout from the back porch for us to hurry, so we can see the graceful sweep of a blue heron above the tree line. They watch the water in the pond grow murky as beavers build a dam. They exclaim at the size of bullfrog tadpoles. And sometimes they just lie on the sofa and stare into space with absolute concentration.
My husband and I feed them and fill pitchers of water for them on warm days, but mostly we watch. It feels as though we've fallen out of time.
Everything will be different in September. I have consulted the school calendars, and before classes even begin, there are three parent meetings. None of my kids take lessons outside those offered by school, but there are track and chess clubs, birthday parties, and fundraisers.
It's all good, but add in homework, car pools, field trips, and a dozen other activities that I can't recall right now, and there's barely time to breathe.
Yes, teachers need to communicate with parents, and social and academic growth is important. But the packets of information sent home from my sons' schools are thick. They provide a framework that we'll build our days on – and the days will be full. Some activities will be obligatory, others optional, but it's all part of what society considers a well-rounded childhood. My boys may be stronger, smarter, and more social because they've taken part in these activities, but what they will never be is bored.
Oh, they may say they're bored during a car ride or the rare lazy Sunday, but the good kind of bored – the kind where hours on end lie unclaimed, where a critical mass of empty time yields first to interest and then to creativity or invention – there's no room for that kind of boredom during the school year. Their days are too full.
We do what we can, but it's planned, it's scheduled. "You have three hours," we'll say, and there it is, the end of the free time, right in sight.
This summer we did things differently. We welcomed boredom. We let them stay up as long as they wanted. We let them sleep late. We took them to libraries and bookstores. We went on walks. But for the most part, we left them alone. And it's worked out rather nicely.
Our 13-year-old elected to learn the chemical formula for most of the rocks in his collection. Our 9-year-old discovered an interest in history. Our 7-year-old has read more than 60 books, and our 2-year-old – well, he's chased everyone else around.
Any day now, the heat of August will fade and the birds will take flight for warmer climes. The leaves will start to turn, and the kids will be back in school. I'll go back to work.
But this year, I hope, even though it's September, we'll remember to walk down to the pond and check on the beavers.