Very rarely, come September, do parents get asked to write an essay, entitled “What I did this summer.” We should, though, because it’s chock full of activity. We are the arbiters of boredom, managers of suck, suppliers of lame and basically, morning until night taking the “F” right out of Fun.
To be clear, we are rotten 365 days of the year, and resented by our children for the same. But the summer provides an opportunity to highlight our fun-sucking savvy along with the chance for our kids to voice complaint as to their sorry existence.
By proximity, to a kid with nothing to do 24/7 but contemplate why he’s too old for the fun stuff, too young for the cool stuff, has acne and body odor, no car and no cash, parents are obviously the root of their misery. Add to that, the fact that “it’s hot,” “someone ate all the Ramen,” “there’s nothing to do,” “there’s a fly in the house” “someone stole my charger,” and “I never get a turn on the XBox,” it could almost seem as if the parents are plotting the child’s total anguish.
It should be noted that the abuse laid upon the summering offspring doesn’t spur anyone to action. Nobody is trying to remedy the situation, merely to bring it to the attention of the resident adults that “it’s hot,” “someone ate the ramen,” “there’s nothing to do,” and “there’s a fly in the house.” Who is probably also underwhelmed by the hospitality. To observe the youth, one might think that assuming a fresh sprawl on the couch is an attempt to remedy the dire state of affairs, or maybe lounging on a different surface altogether is more likely to elevate their disadvantaged plight. Turns out, they are just airing the bedsores.
As the parent, you might fear for the future of your offspring. You might despair that this level of indolence would impair job prospects. Unless, of course, they can find a way to get paid to watch YouTube. At which point we parents will retire, fix the air conditioning and replace the ramen.
Though I recall my own rather lethargic summers during and after high school, my friends and I didn’t go into a coma from May to August. Don’t get me wrong, we perfected listlessness and finessed idle to an all new level of non-performance art. But I do have memories of doing things. We hung out. We sun-bathed. We went to our friends’ houses to hang out and sun-bathe. I’m sure we also found time to complain that Pong was frozen, or that we never got a turn on the phone. (The one. Phone.)
To a parent (i.e. an old person who makes their bed every day), playing peripheral roles in our kids’ summer vacation, it’s almost painful to observe the total inertia – and then be blamed for it. Let’s just play it by the hour. We spent the first half of their lives trying to keep them asleep. Now, we can’t pry our kids out of bed in the morning. There is seriously nothing on the tween or teen agenda that cannot be accomplished between the hours of 2:00 pm and “whenever.”
I do remember the struggle of summers as a teenager, and it wasn’t to get out of bed in the morning. It was the struggle, the earnest racking of my languorous brain to come up with a valid reason why I should get out of bed. Without school, I had no obligations, no commitments, not even to friends who were also head-to-pillow at that time and also annoying the bejesus out of their parents for their sheer lack of gumption.
You’d think it would be a relief for us adults not to have to perform as a human alarm clock every morning to primary-school kids who’d just as soon reach out from under the covers and smack you on the forehead as activate the 10-minute snooze. No, now we spend the first half of the day wondering “Are they even alive?” and the second half wishing we weren’t. Because, oh, the whining.
For these next few months, instead of packing school lunches that end up being sold on the black market, we will now be besieged with complaints that “there’s nothing to eeeaaat” all the hours our children are awake. Then, no matter that it’s noon, they want breakfast because that’s how they were trained.
It’s usually cereal, as it almost makes itself and if you’re missing any of the key ingredients, either the milk or the cereal, it is, naturally your fault. But DO NOT suggest to the hungry child that it’s 2:30 in the afternoon and quite possibly “lunch” might work? This will result in an earful of the obvious: “I haven’t had breakfast yet.”
Lunch, when it arrives at about dinner time, will be a calamity with greater stakes because now, the parent is obliged to coax the child to please not eat right before dinner. At which point they will be sharply reminded that the child has not even had lunch today and are therefore starving, which, in the First World means they have not had a fruit roll-up, pudding cup or juice box in approximately nine minutes. And further, having now blown through every snack on offer, “there’s nothing to eeeaaat.”
If our children turn up at your house for dinner, by the way, it’s because we’ve been serving salad. We do this on purpose – also why the air conditioning stays broken. You might see them cruising through your door with pillows and sleeping bags too. Keep the ramen well-stocked and you’ll be fine.
Parents too, do enjoy slightly less schoolwork during the summer. There’s no signing off on reading quotas, we can let go of screen time and shower nights, curfews and dinner hour, at least a little, because our children have been released from their primary school-year occupation – complaining about school.
Now they complain of boredom. Some time into the first afternoon of freedom, one or more kids will roll out of bed, contemplate endless hours to spend in any way he wants, and decide that a) nothing in his or her realm of feasibility is suitably entertaining and b) Mom or Dad, deemed ultimately uncool the year ’round, must somehow have the secret. But, they are obviously withholding whatever joy is to be had during the whole sucky vacation, and it’s time to get busy coaxing it out of them.
Hence, the youth siren song of summer yowled out to the tune of cat-under-a-bus-tire “Iiii’mm Borrrrrred.” Followed by the clarification, “There’s nothing to doooooooo.” Meanwhile, the parent brain can do nothing but sputter, connected as it is to the bank account, where both systems calculate approximately $8,000 spent on everything you’ve ever seen advertised to guarantee “hours of pleasureful summertime fun!” Not minutes. Hours. In the ads, the kids are deliriously happy to not be sleeping and none of them are griping that the hose water is scalding their feet or that dad put the slip n’ slide on dog poo.
Careful, thoughtful, meticulous bank-breaking preparations aside, “I’m bored” is the parent’s cue to rattle off all of the really fun activities we’ve been paid by the Fun Police to keep under wraps, lest a child experience a micron of happiness. We cave to the pressure and begin releasing such dandies as “Why don’t you have a picnic in the park?” Apparently, 16-year-old boys don’t do that. “How about a bike ride?” you offer, genuinely. Guilelessly. “Why don’t you go see what Brian is doing?” Does this sound familiar?
What about this?
“It’s too hot.”
“He’s on vacation.”
“The tires are flat.”
“I don’t wanna.”
I think, though it remains unconfirmed, the appropriate response is to produce a 32 oz. Inta Juice®, a backpack full of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos® and an actual herd of Pokemon for them to chase around the neighborhood. Microsoft is that short-sighted.
Like our childhood was. Can you say “Hippity Hop?” Hose? Dirt? That’s what we played with and yeah, I guess we were bored sometimes, which caused us to become disgruntled and run away like normal kids. No such luck these days, though. Children are too well-informed. But really, what about good old-fashioned loitering and general hooliganism? These were once proper youth pastimes, until cell-phone cameras, which have turned innocent, petty offenses into punishable crime. Have you tried ding-dong ditching lately? People have cameras in their doorbells.
Meanwhile over at Internet Headquarters, bandwidth has been choked off like I-70 on a Sunday. While we cannot claim responsibility for the entire bottleneck, our Xbox does smoke on occasion, mostly due to Fortnight, which might actually refer to a period of time lasting two weeks. Have you ever told a kid to “end a game?” It really does take about two weeks.
So, with all the time in the world, drivers’ licenses beckoning, girls and boys to be flirted with, lawns to be mowed, skate parks to be torn up, customers out the door waiting for a kid in a paper hat to deliver flame-broiled burgers and fries, post-millenials are hunkered down in the basement playing Fortnight with other kids in their basements. Why not, with the AC blasting and an industrial-sized canister of Country Time® lemonade powder at the ready.
Speaking of hateful powdered drink mixes, does it say somewhere on the label, “Shake liberally on your face and follow it with water”? Could that be the reason for the lemony shellac on the kitchen floor from about May through September?
Regardless, ours also use cups. This summer on any given day, I will find approximately two-dozen 64 oz. plastic tumblers in various stages of emptiness, dotting all the surfaces of our house. Evidently, circumventing vertical activity is thirsty work, and getting up to coat the counters and floors with another shiny layer of sugar water is too much effort. So, in our house, we supersize them, ensuring that we eliminate the need for refills and also that two-thirds of the dishwasher is full of medieval-sized tankards, leaving no room for dishes.
Which is probably another part of the motivation to use a flagon instead of a glass or a cup. Because everyone knows if the dishwasher is full, no dishes can be washed and this is truly the ideal state of things for the summering teenager.
Occasionally, the parents attempt to interest the children in a summer outing, either a mini or full-fledged vacation out of town and perhaps into the woods or to a lake or beach with sun and water and – yes, there’s WiFi – maybe some canoeing.
The children look at you like you’ve suggested they spin wool into thread. “Go somewhere with you?” they query. “On purpose?”
The most frightening thing about all of this is a niggling feeling that I’ve done this before, as the protagonist, the Main Sloth. Images keep popping up of me wading through ankle-deep clothes on my bedroom floor, shoving bags of chips under couches and trying to avoid eye contact with my parents, lest they assign me a job in the yard. If I actually bumped into them on my way to lounging in another room, I’d complain that was bored and they might ask that I make my bed, or find someplace else to live, preferably on another continent. Or, they might want to take me somewhere, to spend time with them. It was best to practice avoidance.
Why my parents didn’t turn me out onto the street, I don’t understand. Why didn’t they put me up for adoption – or maybe they tried and found that parents the world over were seeking “bright,” “enthusiastic,” “vibrant” children to send to college and enjoy over summer breaks, not mournful, scornful, bored children who made Jello look ambitious.
After a couple weeks into this summer, I’m intrigued and acutely disturbed by this growing trend of children to live at home into their 30s. It makes a person wonder where society has gone wrong. Have we? Aren’t these the kids that are supposed to take care of me in my old age? I see them taking care of just about nothing. But, they’re young and after all, I was once useless too.
Meanwhile, I can’t help but wonder if the move toward downsizing and tiny houses has any correlation to this tendency of the offspring to stick around long after their teen years. Has the chill factor been taken into account and has it been discovered that it’s impossible to be fully inert while standing up? Even for masters of apathy? Are these cute nooks and crannies with front porches in any way meant to deter the hangers on? You can reach the fridge from anywhere in the thing but it’s hardly a place to lay out your gaming gear. I’d think that degree of proximity to the parents would be a complete turnoff, even if the kid can lodge complaints about his existence right from his perch on the wooden bench-cum-sofa in the kitchen-cum-family room.
I have resigned myself to the fact that the state of being a teen transcends generations, technological innovations and annoyingly, parental interventions. Young humans must all be innately aware that this is their time to embrace the lackadaisical, to plumb the depths of chill. You’ll notice I have not used the word “lazy” in any of my descriptions of the average teen summering at home. Because lazy is lack of effort and these kids actually endeavor not to do anything. It is a form of work, which is certainly promising. There’s a good chance they’ll grow out of their aversion to activity.
Just in case, I have a realtor and a very small suitcase.