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Sharon Randall: Clear away our own devices to daydream in summer

Coming back from the post office, I drove past a school. The parking lot sat empty, the place looked abandoned, like a dry well waiting for the rain.

Summer vacation.

The thought made me smile.

At an intersection, I stopped at a red light and saw something zip past my window: A boy, 10 or 12 years old, in baggy shorts, T-shirt and tennis shoes. He sailed along the sidewalk on a skateboard – kick, glide, kick, glide – with his eyes, mind and fingers locked on a cellphone, texting.

When he stopped at the curb inches short of whizzing traffic, I whispered, “Thank you!”

He glanced up just long enough to see the light had changed, then skated across the intersection texting all the way.

I watched until he was almost out of sight. Then the car behind me honked, and I moved on.

Driving home, I kept thinking about that boy. Things have changed since I was his age.

Yes, I do mean in more ways than just the discovery of fire.

Summers in my childhood were spent doing … nothing. We lived miles from town, surrounded by cow pastures and apple orchards. A railroad track ran past our house 50 yards from our back door.

I remember sitting for hours in an apple tree, daydreaming, watching clouds, tossing apples down to the cows and listening for the rumble of a train.

When I heard it in the distance and felt the tree start to tremble, I’d scramble down and hold my breath, waiting. The cows never knew what to make of it. They just stood there looking puzzled.

Cows are like that.

As the engine roared by, I’d jump up and down, scattering cows and waving my arms at the engineer. And he in turn, bless his good, kind heart, would blow the train whistle, just for me.

Talk about fun. Clouds and cows and trees and trains and apples and kindness and, best of all, time to daydream. What more could a child want?

My kids grew up on the coast of California’s Monterey Peninsula, surrounded by beaches, parks and urban forests, only blocks from the Little League ball field.

We were lucky. “Go play,” I would say, and they did.

I made sure they (and I) had time to daydream. What else is childhood (and motherhood) for? That’s what I want for my grandchildren, and for yours: A daydreaming kind of summer.

The skateboarder on his cellphone made me wonder: What will his summer be like? Will he ever take time just to dream?

And why should we care?

Because we are all, I believe, contemplative creatures by nature, thoughtful and imaginative and curious. We long to examine our lives, to understand how we feel, to imagine possibilities and make great decisions for our futures.

Cows aren’t the only ones who find it hard to figure out what’s going on. To do that, we need time to do nothing; to connect with ourselves and with each other with our eyes and words and touch and hearts and souls.

My grandparents sat on the porch on summer evenings, saying little, enjoying the quiet, waving at passing cars. My husband and I have a similar ritual, sitting on the patio, listening to birds sing and marveling at the sunset.

Our machines are grand inventions. Who would want to give them up? But somehow we need to learn to control how we use them, rather than allowing them to control us and our children and our lives.

It’s simple, but strangely hard to do. We just need the courage to dare to shut them off once in a while – our cellphones, TVs, laptops and other diversions – and allow ourselves the joy of being fully human, fully aware of life, inside and all around us.

Sometimes it’s good to do nothing. Here’s wishing you and yours a summer to daydream.