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Chlorine clings to my hair, bug spray lingers on my skin, and wet bathing suits from days spent in the pool hang—drip! drip!—over the shower door to dry. It is camp and barbecues, fireworks and sunglasses, all rolled into one. It is freedom, friendship and fireflies; drizzly days wearing pajamas until sunset; mid-week sleepovers spent giggling until sunrise.
For me, though, summer was even more than that. Those wondrous days meant more than just adventures with friends and vacations with family and relay races with the sun searing down on my shoulders. I always thought the most extraordinary part of summer was having unlimited time in between activities to lose myself in a good book. The end of the school year meant the magic was just beginning.
Most kids longed for summer recess and the freedom that accompanied the end of required reading, science projects and those pesky math problems that always made me want to pull my hair out (decimals! I despised decimals!). But for me, summer was a turn toward reading, not away from it. It was a trip to A Likely Story, my favorite bookstore on Sunset Drive, where the bookish sales ladies always knew exactly what I had to read next—no requirements, no restrictions, just good stories. They filled my arms with book after glorious book until all that could be seen above the stack I held was the pink scrunchie holding my hair back and some fly away, frizzy ringlets. My smile may have been hidden behind the books, but my mom knew it was there. She could tell by the way I hugged these stories to my chest, the way my fingers danced along the colorful spines.
And then, just like that, my days were set, as certain as the bright Miami sun. I’d come home from camp and devour book after book on a chaise in our backyard. Sure, to the untrained eye, I was simply lounging under the swaying palms outside my bedroom window, but those who knew me knew I wasn’t just in the backyard. Those who knew—those who casually stated with the wave of a hand, “Oh, Lauren’s outside reading again”—they understood I was on a magical journey to some far away destination.
These were my summers: reading anything and everything, as much as I could get my hands on, books stacked so high they came nearly to the top of my dresser. Those summers were how I readied myself for the next year, how I learned to navigate my first crush, how I knew about the “cool” things to tape to the inside of my locker door, and how to conquer the bully who wanted to take me to town because I did better than she did in class. It was through my summer stories, even the “fluffiest” of reads, that I truly learned how to navigate my world.
This is what I want for my boys.
Granted, they are still young enough that “summer” doesn’t mean much to them. But I know that as they grow, it is my job to give them that gentle nudge, a nod toward books, and to keep reading with them even when the school doors are locked and the days are long and bright and full of promise. After all, so much of summer’s palpable enchantment is inspired by the pages of the greatest stories, the ones that unlock imaginations with the simple turn of a phrase.
As my kids grow up, I have one goal and one goal alone when the last bell rings and my little ones come bounding out of their classrooms on that final day of the year. Just because the school year ends doesn’t mean the story does. After all, summer is a gift. So is reading. I’d say the two go hand in hand.