Tell Me What (Little Things) You Did Over Summer Vacation

It’s “Back to School” season, which means millions of grade school children are being greeted with their first academic assignment of the year. For decades teachers have treated it as a near-obligatory transition to the classroom: “Tell me what you did over summer vacation.”

Younger kids will draw pictures of themselves at the pool or beach. Tweens may write essays about first experiences at overnight camp. Truth be told, I don’t remember what I shared many moons ago when I completed those September assignments. But as a parent, I do recall the stories my now-13-year-old son shared with his grade-school teachers.

I eagerly anticipated seeing his drawings of Cancun, where we went one summer a few years back. I imagined him creating pictures of iguanas or his leap from a 30-foot cliff. One August we spent a week in Maine, hiking the breathtaking trails in Acadia National Park. We’ve done a cruise to Bermuda, a week at an adventure park in West Virginia, a trip to Albuquerque.

I was proud that my husband and I were able to provide my son with such experiences, exciting memories to bring home and share with friends and teachers. Memories to hold forever.

But none of those memories ever made it to that back-to-school assignment. Instead, I read that “Ethan and I had a sleepover” and “I burned leaves with a magnifying glass.” Once he wrote about a movie he saw.


I must admit that as a parent, I was a little bummed. Those vacations weren’t easy to arrange. Or free for that matter.

But as a personal historian, I get it.

“Tell me what you did over the summer” may be a child’s first personal history assignment. “Think back,” the teacher is saying. “What is important to you? Who is important to you? What events had an impact?”

As an adult writing a full personal history, you may be amazed with what you recall from yesteryear and what has slipped away. Maybe you don’t remember the iguanas or cliffs of Cancun at all. But the plane ride? You were above the clouds for the first time! The trip to Maine is a blur but you can still hear the crowd from the first Mets game you saw on the way home.

What you remember all these years later is the story. The memories that last are key to understanding who you are and how you came to be the person you are today. When you write your memoir, follow the guidance of teachers everywhere: “What is important to you? Who is important to you? What events had an impact?”

Often, it’s the little things.