I’m a sucker for nostalgia. Many of my most magical teenage memories—real or imagined—happened in the summer. When my sons are grown, I want them to remember magical teenage summers, too. I see the stretch of summer days ahead of us and envision them enjoying days at the beach with friends and random road trips where laughter and loud music spill out their car windows, which are open wide.
In the haze of nostalgia, I see my teen summers full of friendship and fun, and it’s what I want my kids to experience.
Before I was old enough to drive, my best friend and I would ride our bikes together half a mile on a dusty gravel road from our country homes into town. There, we’d leisurely pedal along block after block, scoping out where our crushes lived. Or we’d stop by the convenience store for a slushie. Maybe we’d pause to swing at the park. Mostly we just circled the town for as many miles as our summer-tanned legs would carry us before heading back home.
When we finally had our driver’s licenses, we worked summer jobs babysitting or at the local nursing home. Often, we spent our evenings raising money for our cheerleading squad by working at the softball and baseball game concession stand. After a shift selling dripping ice cream cones and two-for-a-quarter lollipops, we’d pile into someone’s car to circle those same small-town blocks, this time with a soundtrack of Shania Twain, Alanis Morisette, Pearl Jam, or Snoop Dogg, depending on who was driving. Occasionally, we’d pull into the parking lot of the local bank to talk with other friends before restarting our driving route again.
We camped out at a nearby lake with friends, rode down country roads on the backs of motorcycles, and went moonlight skinny dipping when we were sure no one was watching. On the way to see Soul Asylum at an outdoor music festival (where I sat atop a stranger’s shoulders and sang along), we experienced car trouble and had to stop on the side of the interstate for help. We went on dates and stole kisses and let boys comb our hair after swimming in the lake. We saw movies, bruised our knees on a homemade slip-n-slide, existed on a diet of Cosmic Brownies and Diet Coke, and worked hard not to miss our curfews.
I thought my teen summers were perfect; but now, looking at them from a more mature point of view, I realize that wasn’t true.
Some of my summer risky behaviors placed me closer to danger than my underdeveloped brain realized. We raced on the backs of motorcycles on country highways, and we did it without wearing helmets and well over the speed limit. One of those cute boys I kissed also happened to be quite drunk. He invited me onto his boat, and I was this close to saying yes until a wiser friend intervened and talked sense into me. Some nights, I rushed home on gravel roads to meet that pesky curfew, driving faster than I should have.
Raising city boys in the age of technology, I realize their summers are nothing like mine. Still, I want them to experience freedom and risk in their teen summers with friends they can trust.
So, I encourage them to apply for quintessential summer jobs like lifeguarding or working at a fun shop in the mall. I say “go for it” when they mention Kendrick Lamar is performing nearby and they ask about getting tickets. I tell them to check out a new restaurant or head to a new vintage shop with their friends. I help them map routes to a lake they haven’t been to before, or discover an ice cream shop in a different neighborhood.
“Take risks, make memories, and be careful,” I tell them because I hope my sons have adventures similar to mine, but with an added level of safety.
I push my teenage sons towards a summer full of fun memories, and I remind them to be aware of their surroundings, to always wear their seatbelts, to follow all the laws, and to make good choices.
Easy enough, right?