By BETH VRABEL
When I think of summer vacations as a child, I feel sunshine pouring across my shoulders as I raced the boy next door across the yard.
I remember working up the courage to pedal my bike down the hill in front of the house and to sleep in a tent in the backyard — by myself.
I remember splinters, stubbed toes and bee stings from running barefoot all day, but not putting shoes on the next day anyway. I remember climbing trees, making obstacle courses for grasshoppers and catching crayfish in the creek.
I remember sneaking fresh berries from the bushes next door and eating them until my lips and fingers were stained blue.
Every day was a secret adventure, packed with whatever I imagined and with whomever stopped by that afternoon.
It was a different era, in a way. When the sun came up, Mom told me to be back by lunch. After lunch, she said to be home by dark. The whole neighborhood was mine to explore.
Things I don’t remember: Being shuffled from swim lessons to sports class to the grocery store. Mom insisting I stay within sight at all times. Ever having an agenda any day of those blessed three months.
But I fear that’s what my children, 7-year-old Emma and 3-year-old Benny, might remember about this summer.
Our summer’s been fun — packed with farm tours, art camp and a trip to the beach. Ahead of us, we have camping, amusement parks and picnics. But each day also has structure. Each day is scheduled.
So for the long Fourth of July weekend, we opted to truly celebrate freedom. We left plans and my laptop behind and headed to the Poconos, where my husband’s family shares a lakeside cabin. For four days, the only thing on our to-do list was making s’mores and possibly catching a nap here or there.
Of course, I did supervise. Not with an eye toward reining in, but to letting them go. I held my breath as Emma soared on a rope swing, higher and higher with a smile stretching even further. I bit my tongue when she asked to try waterskiing for the first time (but I did make sure the straps of her life preserver were tight).
When Benny plopped his soggy bottom down in a pile of dirt and made twigs into boats, I sat back in the hammock and closed my eyes. When he rolled across the cabin floor to roughhouse with his cousins, I got out of the way.
“Can we swim in the lake?” Yes, of course you may.
“Can I have more watermelon?” Absolutely.
“Can I take the puppy for a walk?” Let’s go!
Four days of ease and dirt and sun and sweat and cousins and laughter. Is there any better way to celebrate freedom?
Amid it all, I remembered that one day, this lake house would be theirs. They’d spend their summer days with their children, with their nieces and nephews, and leave their agendas behind just as their parents did.
Of course, those four days came to end. We came back to structure and television. But when Emma and Benny look back on their summer, I think — I hope — they’ll remember their weekend at the cabin the most.
Beth Vrabel lives in West Manchester Township with her daughter, Emma, 7, and son, Benny, 3. For more Smart Mama columns visit www.smartmamapa.com.