My drive to work takes me through a construction zone. There’s not much to see except dusty plywood, a bus stop, traffic lights and lots of concrete. But every now then, there’s also a boy and his sister.
She’s a teenager, standing slightly aloof, earphones internalizing her world. He’s younger, and in his own world, too. But, oh, what a world I imagine it to be. He never stops moving, even though the radius of his waiting is only a bus stop.
He bounces a small ball, skips his way across four slabs of sidewalk, runs up a slope of grass, then back down again. I can’t hear what he’s thinking. Don’t really need to. After all, it’s the last week of June and that can only mean one thing: school’s out for summer.
I think he’s thinking about freedom – not the word itself, but the reality of it. He’s about to step away from the confines of school and into the spaciousness of summer.
Someone, at some point in the last month, floated the idea that kids should go to school all summer long. It’s a tired argument, one that should have received a failing grade years ago and been stuffed where bad grades go, into the back of the utility drawer, out of sight and mind.
I didn’t pay much attention to the idea at the moment, other than to brush it away like a pesky fly. Buzz off. School has its place and its not called summer. I suppose there are lots of reasons to promote a longer school season. Students might learn more; teachers might work as many days as the rest of us poor sods; school buildings would be used year-round; parents wouldn’t have to find babysitters or pay for summer camp.
None of these protests win me over. An education is not only to be gained in a classroom. Teachers, surrounded as they are by clamouring, smelly, noisy, demanding students, probably work as much as the rest of us, just in more compressed hours. School buildings need time to air out (did I mention the smelly students?).
As for summer camp, well everyone deserves to spend as much time at camp as is humanly possible. Kids, especially.
But here’s the main reason we need to pledge allegiance to summer holidays for school kids: the little boy on the bus stop. I don’t recall seeing him in other seasons. Chances are he was so solidly bundled in hat, scarf and parka that I might have mistaken him for his sister. He wasn’t bouncing around at any rate. It took the end of the school year to bring that out of him.
He’s feeling it. I can see it in his nonstop movement. He’s finding ways to play, even though he’s nowhere near a playground. It’s summer. Vacation is just around the corner. Who wouldn’t skip along a sidewalk at that thought?
I have no doubt I’m transferring my own memories of summer vacation onto this little stranger boy. It’s easy to do, for I remember the freewheeling feeling that June spins our way.
I remember leaving school on that last day, sunshine beaming down on my friends and I as we ran home, eager to shed knee socks, to kick off our shoes and pronounce ourselves independent. I’m not sure we ever had much planned. But that was the point. We could just move from one thing to another as we chose.
Summer is an expanse that stretches lazily before children, uncluttered by school bags, books and 7 a.m. alarms. Every day holds the promise of play. There are forts to build, popsicles to eat, bikes to ride, beaches to conquer. There are days and days of freedom. And no school.
I know it’s really not that idyllic. A few days into summer holidays, more kids than not will say those three dreaded words, “Mom, I’m bored.”
But not bus-stop boy. He knows how to entertain himself under the shadow of steel and glass. He can find a way to play in spite of the noise of honking horns, regardless of the dust that rises around his feet. Concrete is no barrier to his playful spirit. He’s feeling the summer groove and he’s moving.
I want to join him as I sit in my car, waiting for the stoplight to turn to green. I want to ask him what makes him so happy, partly to prove I’m right and partly just to hear him say those four words: school’s out for summer.
Lynda MacGibbon is a transplanted Maritimer living in Toronto. Her column appears each Friday. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter@lyndamacgibbon.