The asphalt is beginning to steam, pools are opening up, lawn mowers are chugging to life—summer is finally here! When I was a kid, the anticipation of summer vacation was almost as excruciating as the countdown to Christmas. I couldn’t wait for end-to-end days of playing outside, running through sprinklers in my bare feet, and eating salted watermelon. However, now that my children are the ones looking forward to endless summer days, I must admit that my feelings aren’t quite the same. While I love the idea of more quality time with my school-aged kids, realistically, 87 days without reprieve from five bored children is a sentence more painful than natural childbirth… to a colicky newborn… while being forced to watch a Calliou marathon.
Their summer days will mostly consist of running wildly through neighboring yards with a slew of other kids, diving down Slip-n-Slides, playing kickball, and adorning the driveways with elaborate chalk art. Hard life, no? Still—as entertaining as all that may seem, neighborhood kids who spend too much time together eventually end up at each other’s throats like siblings. Soon, they begin haggling over “who’s it” and maliciously excluding poor little Susie from their club, leaving her to run home in tears and start her own club in which she is the only member… Oh wait, sorry, that was 1986 and little Susie was me. Moving on.
I find that my children simply cannot handle idle time: they pace, they whine, they sigh, they fight. It’s like being surrounded by caged tigers circling their prey—eventually, they attack with a boredom tantrum so powerful, neighbors shut their windows in 90 degree heat just to block out the sound of my five belly-achin’ children. To limit their outdoor drama and in-house sulking, I have thrown in enough structured activities to break up the monotony of summer and give the kids something specific to focus on. Little League, football practice, dance classes, cheer practice; throw in a weekly trip to Grandma’s house, a few romps around the park, and two hours of mandatory naptime each day, our summer vacation can remain fairly balanced and tolerable.
That is, until the Bells of Hell come ting-tangling down the street.
The day usually starts off innocently enough. I might be outside sitting on the porch or loading up the car while the kids are playing all around me. Then, all of the sudden, I find myself humming “Do your ears hang low… do they wobble to and fro...” Why on earth do I have that song stuck in my head? Wait! Oh no! It’s not in my head. Up and down the street I see adults poking their heads up like prairie dogs from their gardening and car washing. The weed whackers go silent, the dogs stop barking. It’s utterly still for a moment while our brains simultaneously register the sound: the ice-cream truck is coming. Everyone leaps into action at once, ushering our children inside with lures of snack time or trips to Disney World. But it’s too late. The kids’ ears have perked up and rotated 30 degrees to zero in on the source of the melody while a huge smile stretches across their face and their eyes swirl around in a cartoon-like trance. Then the frantic pleas ring out from every yard: “CAN I HAVE SOME MONEEEEEY?”
As parents try to weasel out of paying $4 for a fudgesicle, the older children start yanking at their loose teeth in hopes of securing collateral for a Tooth Fairy loan. Meanwhile, the little ones resort to the only method of reasoning they’ve yet mastered: throwing themselves to the sidewalk screeching “I screeeeeeeeam!” Or maybe it’s “ice cream”; whatever, at this point the wails are equally heinous. Half-hearted offers of popsicles from the freezer fall on deaf ears because, as we all know from our own childhoods, freezer popsicles pale in comparison to Big White Truck popsicles. The weakest parent breaks first, shelling over a few bucks to each of their kids and the rest of us groan knowing that the battle cannot be won now that one soldier has fallen from the ranks.
I often wonder how the first ice-cream truck pioneer felt when he veered off his usual route to explore our street and discovered the freakishly fertile breeding ground that we call home. I bet he began planning for a
retirement as he watched an endless stream of children flood out of every home, clutching dollar bills and swarming his truck in a high-fructose corn syrup feeding frenzy. He probably kept this Land That Birth Control Forgot a secret as long as possible, but the other drivers must have noticed the subtle changes in our pioneer as he pimped out his truck with gold rims and donned a new white uniform from Gucci’s Italian Ice Vendors line. Florida
Whatever the tipoff, a turf battle surely began the day the others followed him to the Street Paved in Spare Change. With tensions running high, vendors began waking up next to tiny ice-cream horse heads melting on the pillow next to them, a silent warning to stick to their own route. The ice-cream don who was able to secure control of our neighborhood went on to develop his own frozen dessert empire while the others can now be found driving rusty trucks through the rougher parts of town trying to peddle push-up pops for a buck…
Okay, so maybe my Sopranos obsession has tainted my daydreams. But our neighborhood is a veritable gold mine for our real life ice-cream vendor, who looks less like a Good Humor Gangster and more like an off-season school bus driver. While I resent him for cashing in on my children’s ice cream addiction, his treats do cool down a hot summer day and reunite the neighborhood children like nothing else can.
Sure, the dog days of summer usher in their share of boredom and over-priced ice cream; but summer children, with their little sweat curls framing sun-kissed faces and their legs so worn with play that it cant be determined where the bruises stop and the dirt begins, make it all worth it. For the next twelve weeks, my kids will be making memories they will carry into adulthood, and when it’s their turn to grill the hotdogs and monitor the trampoline traffic, they will reflect back to the simpler days in my yard. And as I watch my kids lounging lazily in the shade of my front porch, licking the melted popsicle from their chubby fingers, I have to admit—an overpriced ice pop every once in a while just might be worth the memories.
|For more hilarious comics by J-Sto, please visit www.mykidcomix.com|