I have been lazy about posting my articles on my blog. But here are the latest two (one of them came from a blog I wrote a while ago, so if it seems familiar, that's why. Sometimes life imitates blog.)
This is my son’s first REAL summer. He just finished first grade, and so he can now officially appreciate having his days blissfully empty of any sort of plan or schedule. I’m so excited for him, although on day one at 10:25 a.m. he’s already said “what should we do now?” three times. All this summer-talk has made me very nostalgic for the summers of my youth.
I grew up in Provo, Utah, in the eighties, in an old turn-of-the-century house surrounded by cherry orchards, ditches (from which we would flood-irrigate our yard), and the most exotic and interesting junkyard imaginable. Combine those conditions with the advent of MTV, cable, the VCR, twin pops, and Kool Aid, and you’ve got a recipe for the best summers ever. This was the era when penny candy still cost a penny, when a sun burn was a beginning-of-summer rite of passage that slowly turned into a dark brown tan till September, and mosquito bites were battle scars we wore with pride.
We slept outside most nights, but not in fancy rainproof single-walled Gortex tents. Instead, we spread towels over a picnic table and climbed underneath. Often we just put our sleeping bags and thick foam pads right on the ground. We’d awake to dew on our faces, the sound of birds chirping, and a morning so bright and crisp that I would declare it a “nature morning” and sit outside in my pajamas basking in it until the sun got too hot and I needed to go inside for a blue popsicle.
I remember our secret clubs in my parents’ basement, and the ramshackle hut we built ourselves at the base of a huge tree. I remember playing “Indians” out on the mysterious cement pads near the junkyard and making my own special trail mix (cheerios, chocolate chips, and raisins) to take outside and enjoy all afternoon.
We roamed free in the summer, walking down to the nearest gas station (called “Minute Man”) for a treat and a soda (called “pop”), climbing trees and eating cherries till we were sick, playing night games in other people’s backyards, and trying to follow the ditch all the way to its beginning. We never worried, nor did our parents, about where we were going.
To balance our tree climbing, fort building, and ditch playing, we watched an inordinate amount of television, MTV and Days of Our Lives being our favorites. I was the youngest, so I felt lucky just to be invited to watch whatever my older sisters were watching. We’d pore over the music video offerings on MTV, choosing our favorite members of Van Halen (my sisters loved the quiet and cuddly Eddie Van Halen, but I, like my mother, have always been partial to the theatrics of David Lee Roth). Shortsighted as I was, I thought U2 was sort of boring and I preferred Duran Duran to The Police (I have repented for that severe misjudgment many times since then).
We followed the romances of Bo and Hope, Roman and Marlena, and Patch and Kayla faithfully, and then I usually re-enacted each love scene with my Barbies later. Summer was always full of hope for our own romances (which never happened) and a belief that we were as beautiful as the actresses on daytime television (which was also a bit of a stretch).
Summers were also the time when my half-sister would come to stay with us all the way from Arizona. She arrived extremely tan and full of stories so different from my own life that I always assumed she was not just from a different state, but from a different country and race, altogether.
Summers were a time for drive-in movies, trips to Lagoon, and the local swimming pool. I never remember adults being present, but they must have been there.
In the summer, I held and attended a million sleepovers, at which I always stayed up too late and from which I always returned extremely grumpy and miserable. But I was always anxious for the next one.
In the summer, we’d buy a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken (before it was taboo to use the word “fried” and Kentucky Fried Chicken became KFC). We’d take our fried goodness up to my grandmother’s cabin in Lamb’s Canyon and make ice cream and celebrate Independence Day.
Summer was hot back then, like it is now, but the heat didn’t seem as perilous. Nobody was afraid of global warming. No one was concerned about water and food shortages. Instead, we let the sprinkler run for hours while we ran through it. We “layed out” to get tan, our 32 oz. sodas always at our sides.
Our parents weren’t concerned with our laziness or looming obesity. They only put their foot down when I wore the same flip-flops (called “fongs”) every day and my feet, and their immediate surroundings, took on a hideous, other-worldly smell that probably could have taken paint off our house. The “fongs” had to go, but the good times rolled on. You see, my parents did not think we needed all sorts of camps and sports and classes in the summer. Our time was our own, and we were responsible for what we did with it. If that meant lying on the couch with a bag of potato chips until the wee hours of the morning, then so be it.
Those days are now gone. Our ditches have been buried to avoid too much evaporation, because there is always a shortage of water. Our junkyard is now the site of Grandview Farms condominiums, where retired men and women nit-pick at each other and their neighbors for such things as “unruly hedges” and “a car parked on the street over night.” Our orchards have also disappeared, making way for obscenely large McMansions that are too close together, that have no yards to speak of, and that are grouped together under the name “The Estates at Burr Orchards.” (What a touching tribute.) Provo is still a wonderful place, but it isn’t the same.
Still, I won’t forget the magic of those summer days in the eighties. And I hope my son has the same wonderful summer memories. Of course in this age of skin cancer, West Nile virus, Amber alerts, and global warming, I’m not sure that’s possible. He did sleep outside last night, but in a tent, and I spent the entire night wondering if I was a reckless parent for letting him be alone outside all night. Luckily Rexburg still holds a little bit of that same old-school summer magic, which I am hoping to tap into this season. Here’s to a carefree summer for all of us, stinky flip-flops and “nature mornings” included.
The British Reality Invasion
I've noticed lately that we Americans don't have a leg to stand on when it comes to raising our children, running salons, owning successful restaurants, coming up with sophisticated advertisements, and choosing our own pop stars. That's why we rely on mean, outspoken, potty-mouthed, sharply dressed British people to come and whip us into shape. You know who I'm talking about: Gordon Ramsey, Super Nanny, Tabitha, of “Tabitha’s Salon Takeover” fame, those British-accented people who do all the voice-overs on ads for everything from mattresses to collections of encyclopedias, and of course the ubiquitous Simon Cowell, from American Idol.
Honestly, what has happened to us? After all our founding fathers sacrificed to get us some freedom from these people, we are just welcoming them with open arms to come into our homes and places of business and boss us around. There’s nothing more irritating than an ad on the radio with a fancy British person telling me that I should buy a product that I neither want, nor need, but that will presumably cure my subconscious desire to be British, because we Americans are all just a bunch of wanna-be’s, right? Come on!
And who are THEY? Just because they have accents does NOT make them any smarter than us. Oh they sound smart and sophisticated, but I challenge anyone to watch an episode of “Absolutely Fabulous” and come away with the same perception of the British people. They are regular just like us, despite the fact that they have a soft “r.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of England and the English, but didn't we establish some clear boundaries back in 1776? Wasn’t there some sort of document, declaring that we are not the same as them? That we choose to be different? But of course they can’t leave well enough alone, so they continue to insinuate their way onto our television shows to mock our love of a good mullet hair cut, an over-indulged child, and a bad eatery. I mean, really, so what if we Americans want to spank our children, refuse to listen to our clients' hair requests, serve leftovers at our restaurants, and sing in ugly falsetto voices? That's our right. We claimed it when we declared independence.
I suggest that we declare a new independence from the British. We could call it a Declaration of Blissful Incompetence. If I want to let my three-year-old hang onto her pacifier for the sake of my own sanity, I call that the right to pursue happiness. If the people at Super Cuts give their clients mullet hair cuts with religious zeal, I call that freedom of religion. Let's dump that English shampoo into the Boston harbor! Let's take those chore charts from Super Nanny and burn them! Let's tell Gordon Ramsey to take his fancy mushroom truffles and shove 'em someplace where the sun don't shine! Let’s boycott all ads for products bought in America but sold with nothing more than a British accent. And someone really needs to take kick Simon Cowell out of our country. Those snarky remarks just aren’t what they used to be. Let's tell them that they can't tread on the sacred right of Americans to ruin their kids' lives, cut ugly hair, sing poorly, and serve mediocre food. Because we're Americans, and that's what we like to do.