I never really appreciated summer until I was an adult. As a kid in Florida, I swam at the beach or pool year round. And summer weather in the Sunshine State is awful. A wall of heat slams you in the face any time you exit the air conditioning and cars seats literally burn your skin upon contact. It’s brutal.
No matter what the weather, summers don’t really mean that much to kids. I loved having time to read whatever I wanted (before Required Reading reared its ugly head: I’m looking at you Madame Bovary). I had no plans, really, and there was no rush to do much of anything except roam the neighborhood on our bikes picking wild grapefruit from untended trees and watching our for snakes.
The mysterious allure of summer began to be revealed for me when I started my first job in the Midwest after college. Co-workers took vacations and vanished for weeks at a time, returning with tans and photographs of exotic locations. People got truly excited about this sunshine thing after the long winter and cool spring seasons. I started to get it.
I finally embraced summers when I met my husband. Long hours of daylight meant there was time for golf, outdoor concerts and meticulously prepared gourmet picnics. Shortened summer hours at our jobs allowed us long weekends away or unhurried Friday afternoons at beer gardens, which often seemed to slide into sultry evenings dining outdoors. It was a magical time and I sulked when the first fall breeze sent goose bumps up my bare arms. I longed to make it last just a little longer.
Summer as a parent is a season of extremes; both endless and fleeting.
When the kids were babies, summer seemed to go on forever. With no school or sports schedules to work around, we’d wander aimlessly from library to coffee shop to art class to impromptu park picnic of yogurt puffs and juice boxes. There was always time in my stay-at-home-mom schedule for ice cream and the kids ran until they dropped, often napping in the stroller. I’d pretend to read, head bobbing from time to time until I dropped my book, closing my eyes behind sunglasses, giving in. It was unplanned and glorious.
Now that my boys are in school, there’s an expectation for parents to fill every moment from late June through Labor Day with activities and events and Memorable Moments and summer flies by. I struggle to balance planned and unplanned days and nights. Suddenly, it seems, it’s August and we are thinking about school supplies again.
I admit to bouts of guilt some days when I deposit my boys into the melee of the sunscreen-coated kids at the local Park District Camp and head off to work. I know that they love it there, bounding with sweaty-haired abandon into all the activities and meeting new friends their age. But sometimes I pause, both proud of them for jumping in and wishful for the time when they needed me more.
We still find time for our own summer adventure days – trips downtown to the Crown Fountain and lunch in the park, an escape to the cool cave of a jumpy-house place, a trip to the pool or beach with requisite ice cream from a cart – but the truth is that we need time away from each other. They need it to run around and learn social skills and I need the time to work but also for much-deferred personal time.
Sometimes my husband and I plan Friday afternoon lunch dates while the boys are at camp. It’s a flashback to when it was just the two of us, if only for an hour or two. Other days I take time to read, catch up with friends or ride my bike along the lake. Self-care isn’t something that comes easily, even though I know that carving out this time to recharge makes me a better mom and wife the rest of the time. I try to think of it as Mommy’s Summer Camp and it’s pretty great. I might make myself a T-shirt.
But even during some of those moments of quiet, I think about our summer days, remembering their chubby feet splashing through puddles, how their round, toothless, grinning faces were always sticky with some residual melted treat. They’d run to me, arms outstretched, ready for a hug and then they’d careen back through the water spray again on toddling legs, squealing with delight. I miss those babies and our endless summers.
My kids still run to me when I pick them up at camp, but now their bodies are long and lean and damp with sweat. I hug them tightly, realize for the hundredth time that they are more boys than babies. They have tales of summer to tell, and I can’t wait to hear them.
But first, maybe a little ice cream.