“What did you learn this summer?” I asked my daughter on one of the last evenings before school started. Her quick reply was her newest accomplishment: riding a bicycle without training wheels. Her pride was still fresh, and I could hear it in her voice. I hugged her close with a smile.
This summer has been quieter than last. Mostly we’ve spent our summer peeking out the windows to check on our daughter as she played outside with the neighborhood kids. Sometimes I sat outside on the front steps with a book as the kids played. I listened to their games, stories, and ideas with interest as I flashed back to summers I spent with a pack of neighborhood kids.
I always seemed to be one of the oldest of the group, and I was the oldest child in my family as well. I imagine my role wasn’t dissimilar from the older boy in The Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan who imparts the wisdom of his years to a younger child, including rules like “Never leave one red sock on the clothesline” and “Never be late for a parade.” The art is surreal and sometimes ominous, revealing the dark parts of childhood relationships along with the sublime.
I don’t remember any of the misinformation I passed down to the younger kids (whether mistaken or purposeful), but it seems it is part of childhood to “learn” some not quite right ideas from those who come before us. Tan renders that so beautifully in his book; I think most adult readers will find something to jog a memory of childhood summers–perhaps a rule or idea from an older sibling that seemed true at the time but now is as fantastic as some of the scenes from the book.
Though my daughter is an only child surrounded by same-aged kids on our block, she doesn’t completely miss out on this universal experience. She spends a lot of time with her eight-year-old aunt, who told her never, ever to touch a fire hydrant. They are super hot from all the fire inside. You have to be careful.
It seems some things never change.
Read more about The Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan: