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What happened to summer?

Chairman of the Boards

Posted: August 14, 2008 8:24 p.m.
Updated: October 16, 2008 5:01 a.m.

The Christiansen children kayak at Forest Home Family Camp.

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I cannot believe that in less than a week the kids will be back in school and it's still August. Life will then settle back to "normal."

I remember when school started in September. To usher in the season my mom would take me "back to school" shopping for pencils and crisp stiff new Levis.

Now, with each passing year the summers seem to be shorter and shorter, in direct correlation to my advancing age, spurring a need to savor every moment. For my family and I, summertime is a time for building shimmering memories. In less than a week the free-form wonder of summer will start to end... and I will grieve a bit.

My wife and I make an earnest effort not to over schedule our children, in order to allow for unstructured playtime. I speak of playtime as a physical, participatory, engaging nature, not of passive activities like television and video games. I remember the summer days of my past - unscheduled free play long after the street lights came on or being at the beach until it was too dark to see the surf. Friends were plentiful and my social life was full during the summer. This is not my children's story. The streets of our neighborhood are empty. Their friends are on tightly scheduled agendas and are only glimpsed in passing from car to house. Many of them are off to "camp" - thinly veiled babysitting services offering daily distractions to the participants. Others send their kids away, for longer periods away from home, while the parents take their "deserved time off." Still others are taking part in the over-organized sports machine, pushed by their parents in a misdirected drive to compete and win in order to "obtain character." These children are dropped off daily at practice into the hands of the coaches, with nary any direct influence or participation from their own parents. Exorbitant practice schedules eat up any free time and summertime devolves into a schedule. The bright sunny promise of summertime withers under its own weight of schedules and expectations.

It is here I step in and offer my children the most valuable of precious commodities - time. It is with pride and honor I gladly fill in the role of "summertime friend" to my children.

One of our favorite summertime traditions is Family camp. (www.foresthome.org) Here we step back to a simpler time and place - no cell phones, no TVs, no video games, computers or iPods. There are no distractions to take away from true family interaction. It is here we bond not only as a family, but, as husband and wife and brother and sister. Having attended this camp for four years running, my wife and I use this time as a milestone to measure our growth on many levels, including our spiritual life.

Packed into a tiny one-room cabin in bunk beds, the five of us develop a familiarity and closeness. The activities are simple and engaging, harking back to a time when we entertained ourselves and did not expect to be constantly and passively entertained. There are many activities including horseback riding, the rock wall, trout fishing, lake day, and one of my favorites, the craft cabin. Originally I was very skeptical and cynical about the prospect of sitting down and painting a coffee cup or making a belt. The serenity I found when engaged in these simple activities with my family convinced me that I am a "crafty guy." In addition, the friendships and bonds we forge with other families at this time are invaluable. We find ourselves bound together by common struggles and triumphs. Families of seemingly disparate backgrounds come together as one. Each year we leave camp, after having an incredible time, but, more importantly as a spiritually enriched and refocused family.

Let us not forget the old standard of summer - the beach. Whenever time allows, we find ourselves drawn to the beach, a place where my family has deep roots. The memories built on the sand seems to be the strongest, like the high tide on a full moon. Let me let you in on a true surfers' secret - the "Indian Summer." Starting in late September through early October, this time finds the crowds gone, the water still warm and the south swells running large! So, if any of my children's teachers are reading this and find my kids conspicuously absent during this period, we are down at the sandy classroom of life enjoying what fleeting time God has given us together as a family in His creation.

Eric Christiansen is a Santa Clarita resident who directs and edits commercials and documentaries. His column reflects his own opinions and not necessarily those of The Signal.

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