The trees are full and green and the sun is brighter and the days are getting longer and hotter. The school year is winding down and my kids’ attention spans are growing shorter. All signs point to the arrival of summer.

When I think back to my own childhood summers, I picture bike rides and games of tag with the other kids in the neighborhood. I remember sitting on the curb eating bomb pops while the colors dripped onto my hands and down my arms, leaving trails of red, white and blue. I watched Gilligan’s Island and I Love Lucy and The Brady Bunch on an endless loop, even on sunny days. We caught fireflies while our parents sat on patios drinking Budweiser and smoking cigarettes. We ran wild — grass in our hair, stains on our knees — and no one worried about the chemicals that kept the grass green.

It’s easy to idealize those summers, to paint them in broad strokes as simpler times. And in some ways, they were because there is truth in the old adage that ignorance is bliss.

We know more now and, with that information, comes the pressure to do everything right. We know about head injuries from biking without helmets. We know that our neighborhoods are not always safe and can drive ourselves crazy checking the sex offender registry. We let our kids have those regular old bomb pops from time to time but not without worrying about the dyes and the chemicals. Screen time effects brain development so the only endless loop for my kids is our argument over the media limits we set that they find unreasonable and we struggle to enforce. I’ve never seen fireflies in Minnesota but maybe they exist here or did once and I should worry about the plight of the firefly in light of climate change. I don’t smoke and even my beer isn’t as simple as it was for my parents — microbrew all the way and if it’s made with organic hops, even better.

This is why, as a parent, I find summers daunting. The difference between my kids’ wishes for freedom and my need to provide them with structure multiplied by the pressure to make every single thing an enriching experience while protecting them from so much at the same time is like a nightmare of an algebra problem. But this one can’t be solved because the variables are constantly changing and I have always been terrible at math.

PHOTO CREDIT: VIKKI REICH

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