What will children remember of summer?
The click-click-click of the metal roller skate wheels as they passed over sidewalk cracks was the sound of a summer childhood afternoon.
The large trees that lined our residential street made deep shadows as I followed my neighborhood friends down the sloping sidewalk, our key-tightened roller skates carrying us ever faster until we rolled to a stop onto the lawn of our destination house.
We still had time to play hide-and-seek in the late warm afternoon before my mother's dinner signal, a loud whistle blown three times, sent me home. We would be out again after dinner, playing until the street lights came on, kids of various ages bonded together in childhood and for some of us, for life.
Even so many years later I can remember the sweetness of those summer days and evenings. But what will the children today remember?
We have a number of children of all ages in our neighborhood, but I seldom see them out playing. When I pass the groups at school bus stops the kids appear to be bent over their phones, not talking or noticing the lovely morning around them.
Are they friends or just neighbors? Why do I hear the children practicing piano from their nearby home for hours every day, yet never see them playing outside? Why are there seldom children playing on the enticing play structure in our neighborhood park?
Granted, it is almost mandatory for kids to play the ubiquitous organized sports. Parents sit at the side, cheering or groaning, all hoping for a prized moment of achievement to soothe tender egos. Most of us know that children of all ages play video games for hours, often without leaving their homes, but interacting with other players in different places.
Some hold hours of "conversations" on their phones, sometimes alone, sometimes sitting with friends who are on their own phones. Personal interactions are limited to need-to-know information. Those with two working parents might go from summer zoo camp to church camp to Saturday Academy, each time entering a group of those they haven't met before only to disperse when that activity is over.
For a shy child it can be frightening, as I learned from my now adult daughter whom I subjected to this. But she was learning social skills and bravery that she is grateful for today.
The days I had of leisure hours away from parents, with friends I'd known for years, seem naive and innocent now.
But we know that this is what life is today. We can't let our children play out of sight of adults as there are too many dangers. Even if our children are sequestered in their room with their computer for company, at least we know where they are.
In contrast, my parents didn't know that I spent countless hours 30 feet up in a neighborhood tree as a child, straddling a branch as I read a book or contemplated my world — until I broke my arm when a branch broke.
Today's legal precautions create cocoons of safe surfaces and play spaces, and teach our children that danger lurks everywhere. What they don't teach is how to deal with the insidious dangers that will always be there, and how to be strong, adaptable and rebound from them.
Those lessons come from being with one another, from talking and arguing and laughing with others, whether toddlers or teenagers. From warm summer nights eating ice cream with friends or parents, trying to figure out the world and how we fit into it. Perhaps it is sharing the comfort of conversation or just the presence of a good friend next to you as you talk. But it is hard to miss something you haven't had.
If, years from now, a boy asks his dad to tell him about what he did the summer he was his age and the father replies that he spent his summer playing Fortnite video game that year, will the son say incredulously "You wasted all that time on that dumb old game?" Will the father realize, too late, that this is all he remembers of those summer days?
Peggy Keonjian is a member of the Jottings group at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.
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