The End of Summer Vacation

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Aug 21, 2015

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The school year is about ready to start and with it the merciful end of the summer months of ennui for my two kids. When I was a child, there were summer camps we could go to for two weeks at a time; then, the rest of the summer, we had to figure out what to do with ourselves, filling our time with whatever diversions we could conjure up with the neighborhood kids. We would run back and forth between houses well into the evening, when the warm days finally closed.

Those days are long, long gone.  Today, the summer, like so many other features of modern life, has been “disrupted.” We placed our daughters in camps, which worked well until they finished in early July. Then my children spent a significant amount of time asking me “What are we doing today?” After a few family trips, they came back again with “What are we doing today?” Their friends also take many trips, leaving the neighborhood empty of playmates during these weeks.

That’s a shame. I think one of the best parts about growing up with a summer holiday is the fact that children get together and entertain themselves. The rise of camps, trips, and highly curated summer plans have pushed aside the time-worn tradition of being very bored and sitting around with your neighborhood friends. It’s all of a piece with the relentless effort to deny children their youth and the wasted days of summer. Now, summer is just a time to work on their college skill set.

The other day, I was watching TV, and an ad came on for a new show: Project Runway Juniors. Now, if you don’t know about the original show, it is one of the better Reality TV offerings, as competitors have to fashion clothes during various challenges and demonstrate actual talent—all in addition to the usual backstabbing and shouting, of course. The current season actually features a successful Indian designer, Swapnil Shinde, who has had fashion shows in India already. But the “junior” version of the show is for 13- to 17-year-olds…. 13-year-olds!

I felt a pang of fear — we’re already behind! This sentiment didn’t even make sense, because my daughter is about to turn eight, and we have five years yet. But this anxiety is what plagues modern parents. We’re left to believe that if we do not sign our children up for a space camp today, they’ll never become an astronaut tomorrow. If we do not sign them up for cooking classes, how will they be a world-class chef? If my daughter doesn’t already know how to sew, how will she be ready for Project Runway Juniors 2020? Ack. It’s enough to make the last remnants of my hair fall out.

Later, I found my daughter on the couch engaged in her favorite pastime, watching episodes of the television show American Ninja Warrior. The show is about contestants trying to pass a difficult obstacle course of rope swings, climbing walls and other challenges. She finds something wonderfully mesmerizing about watching these athletes compete while eating popcorn and wearing a blanket.

I laughed at the irony. But then again, who can blame her? Watching people while comfortably splayed out on the sofa sounds like a lot more fun than burning your fingers on the stove or running them through a sewing machine. It sounds, the more I think about it, like the perfect way to waste a summer day.

I made some popcorn and joined her.

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Written By Rajat Soni

Rajat is an Indian-American stay-at-home father of two girls, aged 7 and 3, one of whom was born in India. After working as a lawyer and raising his girls for several years in Mumbai, he moved to the U.S., where he became the primary caretaker for his daughters while his wife started a new job. He’s interested in exploring the role modern fathers play in the lives of their young children.

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