When I was a kid in the summer, there were no summer camps, no summer sports seasons, no summers abroad, and certainly no summering in exclusive settings where waiters tripped over each other to serve us milkshakes and Shirley Temples.
On the average summer day when I was a kid, you would find my brothers and I stretched out in front of the TV in our living room, watching show after show, barely registering anything but the flickering magic screen bringing images of an animated race of small blue people, a blended family of three girls and three boys, or one of several movies on laserdisc that we watched on a loop until my mother screamed that we were rotting our brains and to get outside.
One summer ended with my parents deciding that we were only allowed to watch two hours of television per day, a terrible punishment to me back then, a couch potato with a moderate TV addiction. The punishment only lasted a week or two, but it was long enough for the new school year to start and for us to replace our TV watching with other, more industrious activities.
We watched whatever was on during the summer: new cartoons, repeats of cartoons that my parents remembered as kids, MTV, old sitcoms in black and white, TV movies, soap operas, talk shows, old box office movies, the news. We watched things over and over again until we memorized the dialogue. We saw so many commercials that we sang the jingles when we saw the products at the store.
I grew up normally, that moderate TV addiction harming me not so much. As a matter of fact, I rarely watch any TV at all these days, and I don’t feel as if I’m missing anything. Maybe I got all the TV I needed in life during those childhood summers.
Those summer days may have been wasted, but the memories of being sprawled out on the floor and watching the tube day after summer day are good ones. The freedom to relax and not worry about wasted or unproductive time was fully ours, and it vanished as fast as those summer months did when school started. It vanished more quickly as I got older and had less free time to waste.
As this summer ends and I am preparing for another school year, I see my kids in their sprawled-out positions on the floor, watching the same cartoons about sea creatures and shows about performing arts high school friends and have to stop myself from nagging at them to turn off the TV and do something productive today.
So what if they’ve watched these same programs so many times that even I can recite the dialogue? This memory just might be one that defines their happy summers, and I’m not going to spoil THAT.