Summer time and the living is easy . . .
Right? That’s what we are led to believe, anyway. That’s the ideal.
My childhood memories paint summer in almost unbelievably idyllic hues. We slept late. Swam every day. Came home wet and starving into the frigid air-conditioning and devoured cheese sandwiches. Kept our bathing suits on while we rode our bikes in the neighbors’ driveway and tanned effortlessly. Chased the ice cream truck. Sucked the nectar out of honeysuckle. Played kickball with our cousins. Climbed the crabapple tree. Drank lots of sweet tea. Stayed outside late playing “Bum Bum Bum” after dark. Caught lightning bugs in empty peanut butter jars.
Later, in high school, the pleasures were different: laying out in the sun in the side yard, going to this pool or that one with friends, taking long walks alone, flirting with the young ice cream truck driver, spending hours drawing and writing and listening to records in the coolness of my basement bedroom.
College summers involved work, but there was still time for sunbathing, writing letters, making new friends, and experiencing the joys and pangs of first (and, as it turned out, only) love.
Married and home most of the time with my first baby, summer was all about the apartment pool. We spent four hours a day there for her first three summers, and even after I had two little ones we were there every day: teaching her to swim, bonding with the other mothers, chasing her around the edge of the pool. Later in the day we went on endless walks with her in the stroller. I never worked more than half time once she was born, and part-time work outside the home kept me organized and productive when I was at home.
When I had three kids and a house and was home full-time I lay on my chair on the deck, reading or napping in the sun while they squirted each other with the hose and played in the mud. I made homemade popsicles and took them to parks and playgrounds. Even though our access to a pool was rare, they were outside all day long in those days, like I had been. We didn’t have 300 channels and the Internet had yet to seduce us all.
Ah, yes, those were the days.
Am I sounding like an old old lady yet? Have I overlaid my memories with a haze of nostalgia so thick that all the not-so-perfect parts of those long-ago summers are hidden from view? No doubt.
Still there is no denying that so far THIS summer [ed. Summer 2013] does not live up to any of the ones I have described.
There’s air conditioning. I’ve skipped over a few years where that was not the case, which means those summers were basically above-ground hell. So there is that. There are five kids in my house these days, and surely part of my longing for summers past comes from realizing that this may well be the last year that I can say that. Emily is 22, home from college and working to save up money to move out when she starts graduate school next year. Jake is 19, starting college locally in the fall, and hoping to find his own place then. Teddy is 18, going away to Notre Dame in August, and who knows if he will come back next summer or what opportunities may await him. My “little kids,” 12 and 8, think summer means more time to play Roblox on the computer or watch the Disney Channel, respectively.
And me? I am working, something I was not planning to be doing, not ever, once I had kids. Granted, I am working at home, as the administrator/secretary/paralegal/assistant for my husband’s law practice. But it is still work. And it’s hard to work at home, because then you are ignoring your kids when they are RIGHT THERE. And you are feeling guilty about the summer you want them to have, the summer the other kids got to have, the summer YOU had.
Because even though I bought Dollywood passes for everyone, we haven’t had time to go. And even though I said I was going to take Fridays off to do fun things with them, I have a stack of work about a foot high that appeared in my empty inbox last night that I think I am going to have to do first. And even though my sister bought us a family membership to the YMCA, which entitles us to the use of the outdoor pool, I have not managed to even get there to pick up my membership cards. I haven’t even found a time to take the kids to Kay’s for the end-of-the-school-year ice cream tradition! And I could go on.
Summer time and the living is easy . . .
That’s the ideal. And when we don’t measure up to the ideal (whether it’s an ideal someone else is holding up or one we’ve created ourselves) we suffer. The world (read the Internet) is full of people judging us on our parenting. But I really don’t care what other people think about my parenting choices. I am my own harshest critic. I compare myself to the mothers who are giving their kids wonderful summers. I compare the summer my kids are having to the ones I had or the ones I want them to have.
Because the truth is that my kids are not complaining about summer. Emily is working now. The boys are gone more often than not—looking for jobs, hanging out with friends. William loves to be at home—he prefers it; and extended family members have taken Lorelei to swimming lessons to supplement her Disney-filled days. They are just happy to be able to sleep late and to not have to go to school.
There are so many things we have to keep re-learning as parents. When Lorelei gets really, really cranky and starts screaming at people, it means she is tired. It has meant this all her little life, and when she would fall asleep shortly after throwing a fit like this, I’d think, “Oh, right! That’s what she does when she is tired.” But it has taken me years to get to the point where I think this DURING the fit instead of afterwards!
Another lesson I keep forgetting is that parenting (or maybe child development, or family life) goes in stages. Or in the more eloquent words of St. Teresa of Avila: “All things pass. Only God remains. Patience conquers all.” This stage thing goes both ways, of course: you conquer a stage, you’ve got it all down, and then IT CHANGES. But it also means that next summer will be different from this summer—in fact, this summer only just started and it might end differently than it began!
[This post originally appeared as part of the Summer Series on my friend Elizabeth Flora Ross‘s now defunct blog, The Writer Revived.]