End of summer break hard on parents

Tom WestThese are the times that try parents’ souls. The new school year beckons. They’ve almost survived the summer.

But they aren’t there yet.

When I was kid, my summer was set up this way:

The first two weeks after school let out were spent in vacation Bible school. After spending nine months cooped up in a classroom, the last thing I wanted to do — in early June no less — was spend another two weeks inside four walls.

It could have been basketball class, and it would have made no difference. I’d had enough of sitting in school.

Such is the long road to becoming civilized.

Finally, we were set free. Next up came swimming lessons in the morning and the city’s summer recreation program in the afternoon. For me, that meant playing on a baseball team. Our town had Peanuts (6-7 year-olds), Peewees (8-9-year-olds) and Midgets (10-11-year-olds).

I was the right fielder who spent most of the game counting dandelions until a teammate pointed out a hard hit ball rolling past me.

After the game, we went back to our lake to swim during the hottest part of the day.

Swimming and semi-organized baseball took us to the end of July.

Our county fair was always held the first week in August and began for us town kids when the carnival arrived in town on Monday to set up. It was interesting to watch someone open a semi-trailer, then remove and assemble a Ferris wheel or a Tilt-a-Whirl.

Once the fair officially began on Wednesday or Thursday, of course, it seemed as if most of the county gathered at the fairgrounds.

After the fair ended, my sister and I were usually sent off for a week with my grandparents in St. Paul. A half dozen cousins lived a mile away, so there were kids to play with and our grandma kept us busy. I’m sure there must be special dispensation for aunts and grandmas who take on extra cousins and grandchildren for a week, particularly those of a certain age — say, 5 to 12.

I still remember when all of the cousins decided to make brownies and included some of every spice in grandma’s cupboard. They were the worst brownies I ever tasted, but it was still fun to learn why we should not do that.

By the time we returned home, it was mid-August, where the world is right now.

About this time of year, I was saying things to my mother like, “There’s nothing to do.”

When one is much closer to life’s finish line, one realizes how bad that really sounds, and how irritating it must have been for my mom to hear.

Then, it was time to become creative. Sometimes my friends and I would go into a nearby woods and play “war.” The rules were never clear, but it was kind of an elaborate hide-and-seek in which we ran around with toy guns and yelled that we had shot one another.

One year, a friend and I built a raft and used twine to tie it to a tree on the edge of a lake. It disappeared and presumably self-destructed in the next big wind storm.

Another year, a bunch of us all made soapbox derby racing cars. A friend and I had the crudest vehicle — a plank with four wagon wheels attached. However, because our vehicle was the lightest and had the least wind resistance, we won almost every race, even though the other vehicles looked a lot better.

High school football practice began, and that also served as a time filler a few hours per day. We elementary boys hung around in hopes that an errant pass would bounce our way so we could deftly retrieve it, perhaps catching the eye of the coach with our helpfulness.

And then, in the last week before school began, a miracle occurred. The heavens opened up and down came acorns from all the oaks — thousands upon thousands of them.

This led to a new version of “war,” only this time, we all had slingshots and real ammunition.

I don’t even know if you can buy a slingshot anymore in this politically correct time, but I still wish I had a dollar for every time somebody’s mother said, a la “The Christmas Story,” “You boys be careful with those slingshots. You’ll put your eye out.”

The truth was that our mothers were at their wit’s end, and just wanted us out of the house.

When we weren’t playing “war,” of course, we found plenty of opportunities to take target practice on everything from tin cans to squirrels. (I don’t recall any of us ever hitting a live animal other than a friend.)

I think smart families figure out how to schedule their kids to the very end of summer, right through Labor Day. Whether it’s a vacation or a staycation, those last couple of weeks of the summer can be great family bonding opportunities. If dad and/or mom stay home for a week and take the kids fishing, camping or to the zoo, it can create memories for a lifetime. What’s more, it may even prevent a trip to the emergency room.

Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Peach. He may be reached at (320) 352-6569 or by e-mail at [email protected]