I miss the idyllic summers of my youth. I long for the lazy summers I spent as a kid splashing around swimming pools, erecting sculptures in sandy beaches, painting “masterpieces” in summer art classes and picnicking at Ravinia Festival while listening to Peter, Paul and Mary. As I entered high school, I spent warm summer nights rehearsing in a summer theater program, followed by seemingly wild, late-night excursions with friends in our parents’ station wagons and mini vans to chains such as Applebee’s and Denny’s in the suburbs. Often, we’d build bonfires on local beaches beneath star-speckled skies, imagining life beyond our teens.
Summer now consists of a seasonally-seamless work routine, with longer days of sunshine seen only through tinted, sealed, office windows. Shadows of my scarcely raucous youth emerge on weekends when my friends and I go out to play in Chicago at summer festivals, outdoor cafes and evening concerts. Rarely do we approach a weekend or even a single day with the same sense of delicious, aimless abandonment that we took for granted as children.
We spend much of our childhood trying to imagine adulthood; we spend much of our adulthood trying to re-imagine our childhood. We act like children when under duress; we grasp for child-like innocence when recovering from duress.
This summer, my friends and I took a spontaneous trip to the Wisconsin Dells to help distract my friend who’d been through a bad breakup. It was one of the most spectacularly silly weekends I’ve had, perhaps, since I was a kid. Many of us had been to the Dells as children, but had fuzzy recollections of its landscape. I could only recall large-scale waterslides. I spent four years in Madison for college and considered myself a sort of Wisconsin aficionado. However, spending four years wearing red, eating cheese curds and saying “aboot” with the Sconnies didn’t fully prepare me for the Dells.
The Dells is in fact a trippy, trashy, child-adult play land where cell phone reception does not exist. The “city” is filled with see-it-to-believe-it attractions such as a deer petting zoo, an upside-down White House museum, a wizard quest experience, waterslides built to look like mouse traps, roller coasters with animals protruding from them, mock Greek and Roman ruins, all-you-can-eat pizza buffets with ranch themes, Native American trading posts, rumored cult-run restaurants, cheese shops, fudge shops, t-shirt shops and more.
Our ambitions for the weekend loosely consisted of eating junk food and not feeling guilty about it, swimming, visiting the Wisconsin casinos and viewing as many cheesy (pardon my pun) attractions as possible. About seven of us infiltrated a friend’s lake house nearby. While we had child-like goals for the weekend, we rallied like ladies. We lamented our lack of cell phone reception everywhere we went and trucked on. We prepared a picnic and ate by the lake, followed by hours of floating on inner tubes, casually sipping Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy (a cross between beer and lemonade) and cooling off with watermelon.
One of our nights on the town including playing arcade games, posing for photos with totem poles at Native American trading posts, sampling local pizza (buffet-style, of course), and most memorably, playing dress-up. After comparison shopping between the five old time photo shop studios on a block (very serious business), my friends and I herded into one of the larger shops and debate the merits of various costumes and time periods. We settled on old time saloon girls, namely because the props were the coolest and we got to wear corsets. A childhood dress-up and theater veteran, I was filled with glee at the prospect of wearing ridiculous costumes, if only for a moment. I even whipped out makeup and shared with my friends in preparation for this dramatic photo shoot.
After being released from the surprisingly tight costume corsets, we abandoned the wild Dells night life for another round of dress-up at the house. We all packed for the occasion with Jersey-Shore-like attire. We spent a couple hours, selecting outfits, giving each-other make-over’s and then spent the remainder of the night dancing in the lake house and eating s’mores. That night, we learned new hairstyles, new make-up tricks and new dance moves. No men. Just us. We were 10 again.
We tackled many other important sites that weekend, including sampling several fudge shops, a cheese shop, a visit to Ripley’s Believe It or Not, a trip to a nearby casino—at which we played penny slots—followed by a closing visit to the film, Magic Mike. The entire weekend was essentially a long girlish sleepover where we ate junk, braided each other’s hair and ogled famous, hunky, movie stars.
Had you met me at age 9 or 10, I might have described my ideal weekend similarly. Sometimes, we need to act like a kid again to handle the adult world. A little spiked lemonade helps too.