Monday, August 20, 2012

Back-to-School and Goodbye to the Beauty of Unscheduled Playtime

Today is the first day of school for my kids.  For me, in essence, it is the first day of non-childcare work of the year (Yes, I still live my life on the school year schedule).  In most of the foreign countries we've lived, summer activities are more do-it-yourself, compared to the organized camps you have in the U.S..  My goodness, you have art camp, golf camp, soccer camp, music camp, camp camp.  You name it, it's there.  When we were back in the States, we wanted our kids to have this U.S. experience and enrolled them in golf camp and tae kwon do.  They met kids their own age and learned new things.  In the afternoons, they swam in the lake and sometimes invited their new friends over to play.  They had a blast.    There's not much better than that.

There is something to be said, though, about complete and utter unscheduled play.  In the Balkans, you have "summer."  These folks are experts at unscheduled play.  The coffee shops, shady parks, lakes and swimming pools are packed with people.  My son compares the scene at the public pool complex down the road to "ants on an anthill."  It's an apt description.  All day, everyday, children play.  They sleep in.  The play until the sun sets.  Then they sleep in.

So, when in Serbia, do like the Serbs.  For three weeks this summer, my kids did nothing but build forts, star in their own movies, act out imaginary scenarios out of the Old West and their own Twilight Zone.  They painted, made perfume, built space stations, baked dog biscuits, washed cars, played in the sprinkler, rollerbladed, biked, skateboarded, hiked, swam, sewed, learned new songs and then serenaded us from the balcony, performed self-written plays, played Monopoly, Clue, and Sorry, and, yes, sometimes got on each others nerves (but remarkably, only sometimes!).  These were those lazy days of summer, when we rolled out of bed, stretched, yawned, and smiled, saying, "What are we going to do today?"  It was a beautiful thing.

At first the kids were a bit lost, "Mom, what can we do?"

"Anything you want, within reason."

Huh.  Eventually, they would wander off and the next thing I knew, I'd hear pounding in the garage, or my daughter would ask me to thread her needle,  or my son would ask if he could wash the car (who would have thought that could be so much fun?  Score!).  After a few days, they stopped asking the question and after breakfast would disappear.

I was the support team.  I completed health and safety inspections of workplaces and practices (my own personal OSHA), helped find supplies,  practiced mediation (and sometimes, meditation), fed the masses, bandaged the injured, cheered them on, and did whatever else needed to be done by an adult ("No!  Only I get to use the axe!").  Most of the time I just watched these beautiful little creatures, sweaty, dirty, and, oh, so happy.  This is one of the things the Balkans got right.

Today, it's just me, the dog, and the computer.  The silence is a wonderful thing.  Sort of.  I can't help but miss the laughter bubbling from the yard.  Besides that, my car already has a layer of dust on it.

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