Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Outs & Ins of Summer

One of the biggest perks of summer when you’re a kid is getting to play outside. This is especially true if you live in a climate with significant temperature changes. We here in the Midwest love to take the opportunity to cram as many outdoor activities as possible into the months when the temperature is above freezing. Anything that can be done with minimal clothing, preferably no shirt and no shoes, earns bonus points.

That’s exactly why I’ve had no problem allowing my sons to look like a budget Lord of the Flies production for the past month. There will come plenty of days through next school year when their flesh will become pasty beneath fluorescent lights and the sun’s rays will seem like a distant memory. These will be the same days that will see me wanting to kick them out into the snow. They will not be allowed in until the brink of either hypothermia or frostbite is reached just to get some peace and quiet.

“You are Han and your brother is Luke. No go find him and see how long you can survive out there.” I’ll even let them tell me, “I’ll see you in hell,” if they want to.”

The major difference between the extreme seasons is that in the cold, the kids have to be inside. There’s not much of a choice. Even if they bundle up to the point of looking like Randy from A Christmas Story, they will begin to freeze eventually. In the heat, however (barring the occasional dangerously high humidity levels) I can kick my kids out and they can find shade, use the garden hose for water and fend for themselves. They can pretend to be Bear Grylls. It’s not like I’m tying them to a horse while wearing a giant paper-Mache costume head and sending them out into the desert with the vultures circling overhead.

What I’m doing is a favor to them, really. I’m giving them the kick in the tail they need to get outside and use their imaginations. I’m encouraging them to discover nature, to collect bugs, to hone their athletic skills by running and jumping and playing. I’m even allowing them to develop their strategic maneuvers via water gun battles. It’s never too early for a boy to learn the benefits of tactical shielding.

My fondest summer memories live outdoors. Summer is playing baseball, tag and fishing. Summer is going home when the streetlights turn on. It’s catching fireflies while simultaneously protecting them from the neighborhood’s future psychopathic maniac who would stomp on them just for the satisfaction of seeing their bioluminescent life-goo streaked across the sidewalk. Nobody can take these summer memories away from me.

There was one memory I had forgotten, however. I was reminded of it when my sons and their friends were allowed inside the house for a short time today when the sun was at its highest and the humidity made the air feel like something you could hold in your hand, throw against the wall and watch slowly slide to the floor. When they retreated to the basement to play Wii and I suddenly remembered doing the same for a good chunk of my childhood summer. Well, at least the summers after the original NES was released.

I could see myself in heated Tecmo Bowl contests with my cousin where neither of us were allowed to choose the Bears or the 49ers. I fondly recalled helping my friend map out his original Legend of Zelda game as he navigated the dungeons. I could almost feel my sweaty palms as I delved deeper into Dr. Wily’s lair than I ever had before on Mega Man 3 during a quick early morning session. These were good summer memories too.

Granted, while the vast majority of my time in the summers of my youth was spent outside, on particularly hot and humid days, our parents allowed us to remain indoors and play video games in the cool air-conditioned environment. Some days, the only reason we ventured out was to go to the also air-conditioned video rental store (remember those?) to rent a new game. Then when you finally got home, all sweaty and sticky, you hoped the game was worth the trouble. Contra was worth every burning step. Predator, the game based on the Schwarzenegger movie that I always suspected was based on Contra (it was released four months after the iconic NES game by Konami), was not.

So today, I let my sons stay inside a little longer than I normally would have. And as I listened to their shouts of encouragement to one another as their tried to defeat each successive level, I remembered that I gained plenty of important skills from such experiences. That was the time of my life when I dominated the flag pole jump in Super Mario Bros. I was the master. 5000 points every time.

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