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Columnist
End of carpooling gives summer that old lazy, hazy feel again
By Joni Hirsch Blackman | Columnist
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Published: 6/21/2008 12:01 AM

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Summer.

The simple word itself is enough to spark visions of sunshine, warmth, long days, swimming pools, bicycles, screen doors and flip-flops.

Notice no mention of cars. Summer in the suburbs is the one time cars can be optional. At its best, summer means riding your bike to the pool, taking long walks with the dogs or the kids or both, rollerblading, riding in the wagon or maybe the Burley, swinging at the park - all without a car.

Though most of the year a car is a ticket to experience life in the suburbs, in the summer, being stuck in the car feels more like a punishment, especially on a beautiful day.

Watching my younger neighbors this week take off on their bikes with obvious evidence (beach bag, goggles, towels) of a day at the pool, I remembered how much my summers used to revolve around nonmotorized vehicles.

Then the kids got older and summer suddenly shifted. Instead of enjoying the weather and reading books from the library's summer reading program, we spent more and more time carpooling to camps, driving to lessons, traveling across town, back and forth.

I remember the moment I realized summer had changed - I can actually remember where on Chicago Avenue I was, driving my eldest from a summer camp with the other two stuck in the car for the ride. It was the prettiest day of that week and we hadn't yet had time to go to the neighborhood pool - something we used to do daily in the summer.

Frustration overflowed and I stopped at Dairy Queen for no other reason than to make it seem like summer somehow. Not long afterward, I wrote about how summer had turned into a behind-the-wheel season, a change I liked even less than I like most changes, which is to say not one little bit

The loss of summer's lazy pace didn't end there, of course. It was just the beginning. A couple of camps for one child early that summer turned into several camps during a big chunk of the summer for several kids. Leagues lengthened, activities accelerated and carpools multiplied accordingly.

Summers passed swiftly after that, but with a much different feel: warmer than winter, perhaps, and with different destinations, but otherwise almost indistinguishable from the other seasons.

We were left with a few lazy days in August, perhaps, at least after swim team ended and before anyone started playing high school football.

The year I began coordinating summer schedules in February and March, I knew we'd hit a new point - whether a high or a low depends on your perspective.

But as two things happen this weekend - this summer officially begins and my once-seemingly-endless summers of driving officially end - I see summers changing again in that "days are long but the years are short" way your kids' childhoods have. Suddenly, several decades after getting my driver's license seemed like the ultimate in independence to me, my youngest is getting hers.

As much as I - what? Disliked? Hated? Was frustrated by the summers of driving kids around, from my current perspective at the brink of being able to stay in my house or yard all day long if I wish, I'm sure there must be some things to miss.

Will I miss getting up early and driving from house to house, waiting for the inevitably late person to emerge from the front door?

Will I miss the long waits in the car for the quite smelly boys or impossibly loud girls to emerge from a camp that was supposed to end 15, 20, 25 minutes earlier?

Will I miss having to leave some wonderful summer activity, whether it be something I've planned or something I'm watching the kids take part in, because I have to pick up someone else?

OK, somewhat amazingly, the answer is no.

I think, after 22 years, I've finally found a stage my kids have completed that I cannot wax nostalgic about, something I just may need to celebrate. July Fourth is not too far off and it's going to be a great summer to celebrate freedom.

I can't promise, however, I'll feel that way about being carpool-free in the fall.

Joni Hirsch Blackman is a Naperville mom who lives on a cul-de-sac. Contact her at jonihb@aol.com to wish Beth a Happy 16th birthday.