by Christie Mellor
The economy being what it is, and life being what it is, we have a summer full of… no plans. The original plan -- back before the heart attack, the job layoff, and an overdue book advance—was that my oldest son Edison would go to France for a French immersion language school (borrowing from his college fund set up by grandpa). He would live in Paris with a host family, and when school was over, his younger brother Atticus and I would fly over and take up residence in a small rental penichette, which we would tie up to our friend’s barge. Then we’d all head off down the Seine, frolicking in the various canals and tributaries, eating raw-milk Camembert and playing music along the way. Well, summer is upon us, and Edison still gets to go to Paris and study French (subsidized by grandpa) but due to aforementioned “life,” I will be sticking closer to home. Along with the eleven-year-old Atticus, who –after he returns from the cheapest ten-day music camp in the history of the world—has absolutely nothing to do for two entire months.
I’ve experienced a few such unplanned summers, back when Edison was much younger, and wanted nothing more than to lie around and read for an entire summer. To read, ride his bike, track insects and generally laze about. Back then, the trend of the overly-watchful parent and the overly-supervised child was just starting to run rampant, and I was mentally taking notes for my first book, The Three-Martini Playdate. I began my own personal backlash against the hyper-scheduled summer, and decided maybe we should all have a good old-fashioned un-planned summer.
It turned out pretty well. My son did actually spend a good deal of time in a horizontal position devouring stacks of books. He also rode around the neighborhood on his bike, picked caterpillars off my tomato plants, and made snacks for himself. It wasn’t until the third week that he’d start popping his head into my studio and saying, “So! What’re we doing today?” Which was only slightly irritating, because he’d sort of forgotten that I had to work, and the answer usually had to be some variation on, “Er, I have to work.” After a few weeks of this I started wondering how old a kid has to be to go to a two-week sleep-away camp. But we managed, because Edison has always been a pretty self-propelled kind of guy. He’d find things to do, most of the time; and when I could, we’d do things together.
My youngest son, on the other hand, is very different from his older brother. Not exactly full of initiative. Much like his father, he’s of the “Why walk when you can drive?” school of thinking. His default position is sitting in front of a rousing “Runescape” game on the computer, dressed to the nines in a pair of underpants and his bathrobe. For my part, the daily mantra goes something like this: “Atticus, you’ve done your hour. It’s over. No more computer.” Which is heard, taken in, digested, and politely ignored. (Repeat mantra, Then stand by computer, put computer to sleep. Repeat ritual daily.)
This is a boy who needs a certain amount of structure. This is a boy who needs to be physically removed from a reclining position in order to get him to do something with himself. Sure, he goes outside and plays basketball with some neighborhood kids every afternoon; and he’ll often play his cello unbidden. But summer is looming, and suddenly panic is setting in. Have I set myself up for two whole months of nudging and nagging?
I have to work. I don’t just work as a hobby. As a self-employed person, it’s hard to not bring my work home, since I work at home; it’s difficult to just “leave it at the office.” So this summer will be a little experiment. For me, I’ll try to take more days off. I’ll attempt to actually end my workday and not carry it into a midnight writing session. I will play hooky more. And I will encourage my little lounge-lizard to do more reading, more biking, more swimming, more exploring on his own. Maybe sometimes, with his mom. Maybe with the promise that he’ll get to go to Paris when he’s 17, if he plays his cards right. Happy summer! And wish me luck.