When I think back to my 1980’s summers as a teenager in suburban New Jersey, nothing stands out as particularly remarkable or unusual. I held various jobs (e.g., bookstore clerk, fitness trainer, babysitter), played one year of travel softball, and enjoyed several week-long basketball camps over the years. I was fortunate to grow up in a town where walking the mile to the community pool was considered safe enough to do solo and where the local park was just one block from my house. Some summers included the long (non-air conditioned!) drive to my dad’s parents’ home in rural Michigan, and most years my parents, sister and I escaped to my maternal grandparents’ house in Stone Harbor, NJ, for time with cousins, ice cream, boogie boarding, playing Scrabble, cooling off in the bay, and occasionally taking a jaunt to the boardwalk. Family, food, summer fun.
I also remember afternoons of jumping on a bike to see if a friend was home down the street, showing up at our town’s rec center to shoot hoops or catch up with classmates, and finding a little bit of nature along the Hudson River Palisades for hiking. As parents, we can’t help but remind (lecture?) our children that WE had to create ways to entertain ourselves back when WE were kids . . . that their screen time is surely melting their brains (don’t judge me for making that suggestion as a former biology major) . . . that they should GO OUTSIDE and ride, run, romp, explore. I’m sure some of you are better than I am at creating the opportunities for outdoor adventure, although a boarding school campus is unlimited in its potential, so my kids have no excuse!*
A recent summer evening on Canterbury’s hilltop helped clarify what is truly – and legitimately – at the heart of my parental rants that focus on the likes of cell phones, Xbox and YouTube. We joined several faculty families for a casual dinner, good conversation, and s’mores at the firepit. There were ten boys (and no girls!) among the four families, which should inspire an immediate visual of an impassioned and competitive game of manhunt (eventually accompanied by flashlights). Good old-fashioned fun.
As the boys were negotiating “safe” vs. “out,” managing the spectrum of age/agility, and taking breaks to roast the perfect marshmallow, I had one of those mom/educator moments: YES, this community is extraordinary . . . but that does not happen by accident or luck. We can’t simply “join” a community; rather, we must engage, invest in, take ownership of, and actively participate in our community. There is no question that alone time with a book, on a walk, in meditation, or yes, even with an Xbox console can play an invaluable role in our self-understanding and development; but, community is intentionally built, and that is what I fear my own children will miss when they are distracted (too often) by screen time.
All schools - and boarding schools in particular - highlight “community” as the heart and soul of the student experience. There is no question that community is why I chose Canterbury as both career and family. For those of us fortunate enough to be a part of the this remarkable school, we know that our version of community is built on taking the time to know one another, to actively participate in our shared mission and goals, and to do so with persistence and passion. It’s a pretty easy commitment on evenings of firepits and s’mores, and harder on days when we disagree, make mistakes or grow impatient. But the true test of community is taking care of one another, and showing up for one another, through it all . . . and we do so on this hilltop.
As we head into the final weeks of summer, here’s to carving out time to run, romp, laugh, and engage in the world, and communities, around us. **In “Reclaiming Downtime: For Parents, A Recipe For Injecting a Bit More ‘Lazy’ into the Remaining Days of Summer” (7/18/17), author Bari Walsh reminds us that we can’t lose sight of weaving playtime, downtime and family time into our children’s summer schedules.
Rachel E. Stone
Head of School