Thanks to the needle-nosed Phineas Flynn and his Disney Channel sidekick, Ferb, my children knew exactly what to expect of school when we moved to America.
Namely: "There's a hundred and four days of summer vacation/'Til school comes along just to end it,
"So the annual problem for our generation/Is finding a good way to spend it..."
The reality is more like 75 days but still, when you're let out of school in June, the time ahead looks just like one of those endless buffets in a fancy hotel. Should I have a bit of everything? Or should I just skip anything green and go straight to dessert?
Choices, choices. The promise of summer.
Something those of us growing up in Singapore never had in quite the same way.
The June holidays back when I was a kid (the antediluvian days, according to my kids) were just three weeks long, so the moment they began, you were counting down to when they would end.
We never went abroad but not having to go to school, honestly, was good enough.
There were simple pleasures. One year, when I was 11 or so, we went every day to the Dover Road swimming pool. It was the best three weeks.
Till today, I can taste those juicy, peppery burgers they would be frying up in the snack shop as I came out of the pool ravenous.
Usually there would be Sunday School camp as well. Looking back, I'm not sure I could deal with the "rustic" accommodations anymore, but back then, camp was the most anticipated week of the year.
So, between camp and simply putting one's feet up after a wearing time in school, the break would be over before one could say, pass the TV remote. Of course, I never said that until they invented VHS and you could binge on the entire Man In The Net series in grainy video. Before VCR, there was nothing on TV.
If anything's changed, it's that you don't have to get tangled in tape anymore. You can still pop TV shows like Skittles. In the meantime, your summer buffet is dwindling fast.
Ah. The annual problem of summer, finding a good way to spend it that balances relaxation with meaningful activities - for instance, those that can help get you into college or build the foundations of a social network for life.
Cartoon characters can have amazing adventures but real life needs more planning and a good chunk of downtime, as with any buffet, needs a strategy if you want to get the most out of it.
The options are myriad. You can go to a traditional summer camp in an idyllic setting for some outdoor fun or hunker down inside at cryptography camp to study how to make and crack codes. You can volunteer with the local animal shelter or apply for an internship with the National Institutes of Health. You can hone your athletic skills through any number of sports camps or try to get into the Youth Conservation Corps and spend a rugged two weeks repairing wilderness trails.
You could get a summer job to defray the cost of a trip to Europe next year. Or you could spend 21/2 months watching every TV series known to man because you didn't get around to filling in the forms for all these cool experiences, so now you have to wait till next year.
Ah. The expectations of summer.
Possibly it rewards those who are enterprising, curious and energetic, or who have parents who are organised enough to flag these options ahead of time.
For at the back of many a parent's mind, aside from wanting kids to have a good time, is the hope that these months will be when their teenager can make their mark to stand out from the thousands of others who will be applying for college admission at the same time.
Summer is a time for padding one's resume. The annual problem of our generation.
After all, the traditional reason for a long summer break was so that children in a mainly agrarian society could help with harvesting. It was not instituted as time to sit around and do nothing.
Well, we're not in Kansas anymore and it's possible to ascribe too much importance to the investment value of summer. It's possible the ideas of learning and growing are wider than those we assign to them.
But for kids who are willing to put in the time and effort, and have the means, frankly, summer can be a great opportunity, as Phineas and Ferb say, to do it all.
The writer lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
This article was first published on Aug 10, 2014.
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