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The plan: No plan at all

Seattle Times – September 02, 2007
By Danny Westneat

People would ask: So, got any big plans for the summer?

Nope, I'd say. I was lying. We did have a plan for these past 10 weeks. It was to have no plan.

That meant few or no scheduled activities for our two kids. To resist, if we could, the organizational tyranny of camps, lessons and team sports.

Our summer slogan was simple, and, some parents would say, suicidal. "Nowhere to go, nothing to do." Except for whatever we wanted, spontaneously, meanderingly. The way summer used to be.

I don't know what drove us to do this. Apparently my family is part of a quiet uprising in America. A minirebellion against the over-programming of kids. It's all out there in books such as "Last Child in the Woods," about how digitally medicated children no longer touch nature. Or "Revolution in the Bleachers," about how "parents can take back family in a world gone crazy over youth sports."

The argument is that being a kid today is an occupation. You get up, eat your Cheerios and trudge off to your video cubicle. Any interruptions are preplanned, professionally run events, to which you are driven in the company car.

As my wife says: "Whatever happened to kick the can?"

So this summer we checked out. My wife deserves a medal, or at least a break. A few days the kids were still in pajamas when I got home from work.

What did they do? Played with snails and their trails. Spread dirt. Did flips at a pool. Oscar, 5, taught himself to whittle (later we learned there's a class for that, too).

Seattle is famously the only big U.S. city from which you can see three national parks. That's what we usually do: Just look at them. This summer we went to all three.

In the North Cascades, the kids swam in the frigid Skagit River. Went rafting. Stepped on a nest of yellow jackets.

In Olympic National Park, they camped on the beach. Let banana slugs ooze along their arms. Built a bonfire. Body-surfed in the glittering, kelp-strewn waves of the Pacific.

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At Mount Rainier, my daughter, Willa, woke up at 3:30 a.m. to see the lunar eclipse. She lay in her sleeping bag, next to the river and under the stars. She is 7. When she tells about it now, it's touch and go which glows brighter, a full moon or her face.

Now there's a national commission, a government TV ad starring Shrek and even a motto ("No Child Left Inside"), all striving to get kids and families to unplug and go outside.

Next month our state Legislature will do its part against "nature-deficit disorder" with, you guessed it, a study on the value of outdoor recreation.

Folks, this summer we grappled with tough issues: the war, sex predators, Seattle's cost of living. This isn't one of them. Are we now so clueless we need government to tell us to go out and play?

Anyway, summer's ending. I felt the melancholy when I saw my daughter's fall schedule. She'll need a BlackBerry to keep it straight: choir, soccer, piano lessons. Every afternoon already is booked.

When school starts this week, the question will be: So, do anything big this summer?

Nope, I'll say. Just hung around town. You?

Danny Westneat's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com

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