While we should have been having dinner the other night, my husband was out back taking the training wheels off our eldest son’s bike. Moments later, a very exuberant six-year-old boy was wobbling off slowly down our street shouting, “I’m doing it!” — his dad right behind him.
Within minutes, he (son, not dad) was up to his regular speed, circling and circling the 25-yard permitted bike-riding area — from the hydrant to the big tree — joined by his big sister and little brother pedaling along on a Pretty Lady purple bike and a Bumble Bee tricycle, respectively.
Eventually, all vehicles were stored in the shed and all five Konigs traipsed inside for hastily prepared sandwiches and a round of juice boxes. On a long July day, sandwiches and juice boxes are a two-course feast.
Everything is just a little different in the summer. The rules can be changed or bent or broken, at least every once in a while.
The summer I turned ten, I was allowed to bounce a Super Pinky and play Skip-It with my sister in front of our apartment building under the watchful eye of our doorman. This was a big deal (for us, not our doorman). Our mother was very strict.
Every year when school let out, we’d be allowed to do stuff that was strictly verboten during the school year. For a while, we spent summer weekends at a little house on the north shore of Long Island. My sister and I worked our way up from only being able to ride our bikes back and forth in front of our fence (about 20 yards), to biking as far as the main road (50 yards), then to the top of the hill (seemed like miles). One day, our parents announced that we could finally ride down the hill to the rocky beach of Oyster Bay. There we could go exploring, romp with a drooling Irish Setter named Bromley, and wrestle with a local kid, Billy. I always succeeded in pinning him to the ground (Billy the kid, not Bromley the dog). It only recently occurred to me that he probably let me.
Once I ran smack into a tree in Billy’s yard and split my lip. As my mom debated with my dad whether or not a visit to the emergency room was necessary, I think she wanted to rethink this whole “give the kids some freedom” approach. But the toothpaste was already out of the tube.
A few summers later, my sister had her first boyfriend and I relentlessly tagged along when they went to play soccer in Central Park. I was allowed to go because they were older and would look out for me. And they did. But it still felt cool to be in the park on our own. I think my mom also knew that my annoying presence would keep the disgustingly sweet, hand-holding, eye-gazing relationship right where it was. And it did.
These milestones always occurred in the summer when there was time, and the city was quiet, and parents had a chance to test what you were old enough to do.
Now our own kids are yearning for summer freedom. Although our daughter’s nine and her brothers are six and three, most of the kids on the block are older. Ours peer enviously out of their bedroom windows as ten- and eleven-year olds scooter and bike and hang out in the street long after Konig children are confined to pajamas.
One day last summer, when our youngest was napping, I let the older two hold hands and “walk, don’t run” to the ice cream truck up the block with a $5 bill. I watched as our daughter pointed to many pictures of frozen treats on the side of the truck (our son deferred to his older sister’s retail savvy) before a hand emerged with two ice cream sandwiches and money was exchanged.
Over the next two months, they’ll bike and trike and skate in front of our house with plenty of grown-ups standing around yelling, “CAR!” Maybe next summer it will be down to the corner and, one day, all the way to the bottom of the hill — to explore.
— Susan Konig, author of the book Why Animals Sleep So Close to the Road and other lies I tell my children, is an NRO contributor.