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Once upon a time, not so very long ago, summers lasted forever. Days were long and hot; nights were short and also hot. The first few weeks were filled from dawn till darkness. From our bicycles to our skates to a backyard pool, we filled every waking minute with fun. We romped with the 15 or so kids who lived on our block. Dinner was five minutes after dad and Mr. Sullivan walked down the blocks from the train. When the street lights came on, everyone was in for the night.

Then, around mid July, the pace slowed. We read more and ran less. We got sick of the same old games, so we invented new ones. We found new things to do with a ball or a can. “Tag” changed to “Wolf”. We held contests-“decorate your bike” and “crazy hat” and “zany costume” and, of course, beauty contests in which the winner was decided based on whose turn it was.

By mid-August, we all anxiously awaited school. As much as we knew we would miss summer, our bodies and our brains (not to mention our moms!) craved a routine.

These were the summers of my childhood.

The summers my children and their friends will remember are so different.

For starters, there is no “neighborhood.” Sure, there are lots of other kids on our block-I can name almost a dozen kids under ten. Yet, they’re not around to play with during the summer. The spend most of the daylight hours at camp, getting home at about the same time as school would end during the rest of the year. When they’re not at camp, they’re at Tae Kwon Do or bowling or skating–  my kids seem to be the only ones “hanging out.”

And summers aren’t as hot as they used to be. No, I’m not talking about the Greenhouse Effect or Global warming. But my kids, like their peers, live in climate controlled comfort, thanks to the ever present air conditioning.

But perhaps the biggest difference is that today’s kids seem to be on a constant quest to keep busy. Thanks to cable TV, there is child-appropriate programming on 24/7. Long trips to a vacation destination are either shorter, thanks to air travel, or at least seem to be, thanks to Game Boy. Many kids, like those in my neighborhood, are enrolled in camp or something similar from the Monday after school ends until the Friday before Labor Day. Their summer consists of a few long weekends with mom and dad.

All of which begs the question: where is the boredom? Where is the time to lie on the grass in the yard, and think of what you want to be when you grow up? Where is the time to make up stories, or to see pictures in the clouds passing by? Where is the time for the heart-to-heart talks between best friends? The idea of “Quality Time” is a great one, assuming that you realize one fact: Quality Time cannot be programmed. It comes along in unexpected spurts, frequently when we least expect it. But it is asking a lot of fate to expect those spurts to occur during the ten or twenty minutes a day we have programmed as “free time”; and that’s assuming that our children happen to be in the same room as us during that magical time.

Personally, I’m in favor of long, hot boring summers. All that free time is fertilizer for the mind and the soul. It enables our kids (and us too) to stop, smell the roses, and take a look at the bee sniffing around those roses. It provides valuable resources that our kids will need during the school year, when they’re bombarded with assessment tests and projects. Think of all the great inventions which have shaped our world. Would they have been possible if their creators had been stretched tight, with no time to wonder “What if?”

Let’s bring back boredom!