Suzanne Tobias

June 11, 2014

Perfect summer, like lemonade, requires only simplest ingredients

Three things made me nostalgic recently.

Three things made me nostalgic recently.

One was a piece by blogger Melissa Fenton – posted on 4BoysMother and subsequently shared by several Facebook friends – titled “Top 10 Ways to Give Your Kid a 1970’s Summer.” The list included: “Make them play outside. Like all day.” And “Spend three nights in a row at your best friend’s house.” And “Play the old Simon game until you want to throw it against a wall.”

The second was a message from Apple Inc. consultant Ken Segall during a recent symposium about the power of simplicity:

“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add,” he said, quoting Antoine de Saint-Exupery, “but when there is nothing left to remove.”

And the third was watching my children dive headfirst into summer vacation.

It’s true that summer isn’t what it used to be. As the first day of school sneaks closer and closer toward July, stores start stocking back-to-school supplies before I even get a chance to sift through my kids’ backpacks to see what might be salvageable.

And if there weren’t enough daily reminders to cherish childhood, June arrives and we’re inundated with enrollment information and tips to avoid summer brain drain.

Fenton’s essay on 1970s summers made me recall my own, when my brothers and I would stay outside until dark, tossing baseballs or playing kickball in the street and pausing whenever someone yelled, “Car!”

Like Fenton, I watched plenty of television – “Gilligan’s Island,” “The Brady Bunch,” “Happy Days” and “Welcome Back, Kotter.” I spent days and nights at my best friend’s house, or she at mine, listening to records, braiding hair and playing that game where you write with your finger on the other person’s back and she tries to guess the letters.

We rode our bikes until the tires wore out. Mine was a spiffy little model with a green and yellow banana seat and the phrase “Sweet Pea” in script letters on the side. I used to pretend it was a horse and we were racing in the Kentucky Derby.

We held car washes, sold lemonade, went to the pool and jumped off the high dive. We read a lot, but only what we wanted to read. We memorized the “Xanadu” soundtrack.

One afternoon – or maybe it was a whole week, the days morphed into one another – we choreographed an elaborate roller-skating routine to Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana.” She was Lola, I was Tony, and we traded off being Rico, who wore a diamond and was escorted to his chair when he saw Lola dancing there.

I’m not naive or ridiculous enough to believe those summers were perfect, for us or our parents. We got bored and complained like every other kid.

But by Segall’s and Apple founder Steve Jobs’ measure of perfection – that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” – it’s apparent that modern-day summers could benefit from a look back. And not just with the 1977 Instagram filter.

“I am done with all the forced smile-inducing, uber planned and supervised, over-the-top summer life experiences I am supposed to provide for my kids,” Fenton writes.

Pinterest boards collect recipes for homemade moon sand, the science museum scavenger hunts, the backyard water park built from PVC pipes, pool noodles and plastic sheeting.

“And what summer pool party would be complete,” Fenton adds, “without nitrate, skin, meat, additive and taste-free hot dogs on gluten-free buns covered in artisanal ketchup?”

Simple? Hardly.

Some quests to give children the ultimate summer overlook the simple joy of relaxation, of decompression, of doing absolutely nothing – or whatever fun kids can create for themselves. And a lot of it.

A perfect glass of lemonade doesn’t require much effort or complicated ingredients: water, lemons, sugar, that’s it. Neither does the perfect summer.

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