Marilee Cosgrove of Irvine didn't want to wait for the June 21 solstice that officially marks the beginning of summer. The end of the school year in mid-June wasn't going to be soon enough, either.
So on the first day of June, she made an announcement to her 7-year-old son, Christopher, as he was getting ready for school. "I told him: 'Today's our first day of summer. We have 103 days of it. And we're going to do something special every day.'
"I want him to really get the flavor of being a child in summer," she says. "It's just such a wonderful learning time for children. He can play as hard as he can, without worrying about how dirty he gets. And I want to get dirty, too. I guess no matter how old you get, there's still that nostalgic feeling of summer. You know: take off your shoes, stay out until the street lights come on."
Cosgrove, a lifelong Orange County resident, remembers how, when she was a child, the smell of orange blossoms at night signaled the beginning of warmer weather and long, unscheduled days.
But Christopher doesn't have those kinds of memories. For his generation, orange groves have become a rarity--and so have the lazy days of summer.
"He's been in day care every summer since he was born," says his mother, who works full time as community services supervisor for the city of Irvine child-care coordination office.
For such kids as Christopher, summer days may not seem all that different from school days. Sure, they get a break from homework for a while. But they still have to get up and go somewhere every day on schedule--sometimes to the same building they went to during the school year.
"They don't have it the way we did," Cosgrove says.
Cosgrove and her husband, Cameron, have arranged to give their son a different kind of summer this year. For the first day's "something special" on Wednesday, they picked Christopher up from the after-school day-care center at his elementary school and drove to the beach. They built sand castles, looked for seashells, watched the sun go down and the moon rise.
When school is out, Cosgrove says, she will take four weeks' vacation to stay home with Christopher. Her husband's vacation will overlap part of that time, and then Christopher will have a week at home with his dad after his mother goes back to work. For the rest of the summer, he will stay with an aunt and have a chance to play with his cousins.
"There's just something about summer--even the smells are different: suntan lotion, barbecues, cut grass," Cosgrove says. "We wanted him to have that.
"We made a family commitment that no matter what, our child would have the same upbringing as we did. My working was not going to be a factor," Cosgrove says. "We reprogrammed ourselves. Sometimes it gets hectic, but then, it got hectic for my mom, too, even though she stayed at home."
To keep things relaxed, the Cosgroves had to get organized. "We made a list of the things we remember from childhood that we wanted to include in our son's life. And we also listen to him and add things he suggests," she says.
"We also make lists of things we're going to do. It doesn't have to be anything big; it could be just a walk around the neighborhood or a family bike ride."
Even before Christopher's special summer began, his mother says, he seemed to be enjoying his childhood. "One day he looked at me and said, 'Oh, Mother, isn't it wonderful to be a child?' "
But what if you can't manage to take the summer off with your child? Is there still a way to make summer special?
As part of her job, Cosgrove helps families find not only standard child care but also fun activities for the summer as well as the school year. She can list more suggestions than most callers have time to hear.
"There are so many neat things for children, and families, to do," she says. "There's a myriad of day camps out there--the YMCAs, the YWCAs, city parks and recreation departments. Nearly every city has a program. The Sea Scout base in Newport Beach offers sailing and windsurfing lessons, the Orange County Marine Institute in Dana Point has all kinds of marine-related activities."
For more information on those or other activities, Cosgrove recommends "Parents Guide to Orange County," by Glenda Riddick, available in many local bookstores or for $12.61 from Resource Directory, 1038 N. Tustin Ave., Suite 241, Orange, Calif. 92667.
In the Saddleback Valley, hundreds of kids will spend their summer vacations at a familiar location: school. But instead of classes, the 5-to-12-year-olds will be attending day camps run by the Saddleback Unified School District's Parks and Recreation Department.
Jim Ball, director of the program, says he is making an effort to keep camp from seeming too much like school.
"They'll be going to Universal Studios, taking a ride on an Amtrak train, going to the Ringling Brothers circus, Angels baseball games, the La Brea Tar Pits, Sea World, and then we're having an end-of-summer sock hop.