Friday, August 26, 2005
Dispatch from Cape Cod
It’s the end of August, officially not of any real significance except to note that summer’s close to being over. The local weather guy on TV seems to make a point of saying that, meteorologically, fall starts the first of September. All of this to say that summers speed by much too quickly. I try to slow the process by focusing on how my children see it but, there too, the pace has picked up from how I remember my idle/idyll time of summers past.
They have camps, activities, places to go, people to look after them, everything seems so damn scripted and each moment filled. Sheila and I have talked about this every once in a while. They should have ‘down time’ we say, they should be able to invent things for themselves, use their imaginations and make up things. They should just do whatever they feel like doing.
Back in East Falls, my old neighborhood in Philly, and in Beckley, West Virginia, and Millsboro, Delaware I used to play with friends, real and imaginary, for hours with no adult supervision. Somehow I managed to survive summers wandering the West Virginia woods, the streets of Philadelphia, Fairmont Park, the flat country-side of southern Delaware without encountering any of the evils we imagine lurking about our children should they be unguarded today.
People have come up with multiple income streams by creating a multitude of services for children during the summer. There are as many camps as there are specific sports. And then there are camps for general activities and cup scouts, girl scouts, fun camps, arts camps, etc. We busy adults are all too happy to provide an ‘enriched’ experience for our kids. We’re happy to ensure that they are safe and protected during those months away from school.
When do my children have a chance to sit down and gaze upon the sky and see the shapes of the clouds? When do they drift off into the streams of imagination that sweep like currents through their minds, souls, and hearts? When do they encounter the majesty of nature in a way that is not restricted, not bounded by artificial or commercial concerns?
Today we spent four or five hours on the water off Cape Cod watching our nieces in sailing races. The children were fascinated by the whole scene and Robert said he wanted to spend time up here next summer sailing. While we certainly will see that he does find a way to do that I immediately saw it as a wonderful way for him to get to that sense of summer that I used to have.
We shared an observer’s boat during the races and spent a good deal of time just coasting on the current making sure race participants followed the rules and, if they needed it, being ready to give them help. I couldn’t help but notice that while on the boat the proportions of land, sky, and water were drastically changed. The land was but a ribbon stretched between vast reaches of sky and water.
The houses we could see were tiny, humans outside our boat and the sail boats almost non-existent. What was important, especially to those sailing, was the wind. Watching the children racing, the youngest were eight, we could see some of them being masterful with their rigging, tacking and plotting their moves over the course. Some were struggling, one actually flipped his boat. He stayed calm and eventually got it up righted and continued fighting his way up wind on the first leg.
Eight or nine year old boy against the wind and the sea…it was amazing to watch!
What could be better for these children than learning the lessons of wind and water? There probably are plenty of answers to that question but at the heart of parenting isn’t the core of our purpose to prepare our offspring to make their way in the world?
After learning to appreciate the wonder of nature, or maybe coincidental to that, is learning to partner with others as you learn to make your way through life. Watching all of this made Robert wistfully ask Sheila and me if he could come up here next summer to sail. We found out there is a three week ‘camp’ for beginners and, yup, both of us said yes.
I hoped quietly that I too could find a spot in that camp…
More from Chatham and Yarmouth next week!