Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Evolution of Summer

Sometimes time just gets away from you.

That's what happened to me in the month of August.

There were visits to parks, the lake, the local farm, family visits, and lots of playtime outside. Lots and lots and lots of playtime outside.

Then one day last week I looked up and realized that the month of August had slipped through our fingers. This reality occurred to me when I was outside playing with my kids one evening and the sun that just a few short weeks ago that had been still high above the houses was slipping behind the treeline as the night drew near. A cooler breeze took over the warmth of day, and my 3-year-old made the observation that it was getting dark outside.

I watched that evening as the kids dug in the dirt in our yard and thought back to my summers as a kid. Summers outside making "forts" between the few trees in our backyard and neighborhood kickball leagues and going to the town lake or riding bikes down hills after a rainstorm hoping for a puddle. Summers with family vacations to the beach and summers with evening board games on the porch with neighborhood friends. Sprinklers and friends' pools and lightning bugs. Sliding down too-hot slides or sitting on swings whose black color had absorbed the heat from the sun.

Then I became a teenager and summer became a time to work extra hours to gain some extra pocket money. To go to the beach with friends at night and lay on the beach listening to the waves. To get out of work and not have to go right not to finish homework, but instead get an iced coffee and stay outside at a park or at a friend's house or drive around with the windows down singing at the top of our lungs until it was time to be home for curfew. Sleepovers and camping and card games. Drum corps practices and band camp in the hot summer sun, drinking loads of water and lathering on more sunscreen than I knew existed (yet still getting a killer tan).

Of course there were always constants. The smell of a light summer rain on the pavement. The feel of the fan in the humid summer nights as I lay there sleeping between sheets with no blankets. Memories of my Mom's perfectly medium steaks and corn and potatoes on the grill, the juicy burgers that dripped when you bit into them, the feel of BBQ sauce on my fingers from the BBQ chicken legs. Reading book after book in front of a fan or in the shade of a tree because we didn't have air conditioning. Iced tea, lemonade, ice cream trucks, ice cream stands.

Summer always seemed like this magical time of year where there was nothing to be had but enjoyment. Even if you had to work - either babysitting or a part-time job - it felt like responsibility could take a backseat to a 2-month long sabbath.

Then I grew up and summertime changed.

Summertime became a big tease. Working full-time with a limited amount of vacation days doesn't allow for an extended hiatus. 30-minute lunch breaks became my taste of the beauty of summer - 50 yards away from the smoking hut in an industrial park. Drives with the windows down to the beach blaring music turned to drives on back roads home from a 9-hour work day blaring music, the smell of salty air replaced with the smell of exhaust from the car in front of you. There was still the feeling of freedom from the indoors, but instead of the carefree feeling that came along with not having anywhere to be there was always the tugging feeling that something else just had to be done.

Summertime changed for me for a while once adulthood set in. But then... then we had the kids.

So there I sat at the bottom of our front walkway steps, watching as my two little toddlers dug around in the dirt in search for worms, ants, beetles, or any other bug that might crawl up from the filth. I watched as they picked up shovelfuls of the earth, filled miniature dump trucks and moved them to "the dumping place" to empty them out and then start the cycle again. I smiled as my 16-month-old daughter stood up and decided it was time to stamp on the ants, walking normally with her right foot as she lifted her left foot up a-la John Cleese in Monty Python's "Ministry of Silly Walks" skit and stomping it back down. I heard my son declare it was time to play soccer, toss down his shovel and run in the direction of the box of balls to get his soccer ball.

In those moments after realizing that August had slipped through the same cracks that allowed the sunlight to slip through the trees during that evening's slow sunset, I also realized that summer had managed to become magical again.

In preparing to write this post, I asked a handful of moms whose kids have grown what they cherished about their summers with their kids. The common thread was the allowance for memories to be made once the weather warmed, and school was out for the summer. The moms that answered recounted trips to farms, trips to the beach, seemingly aimless drives to a surprise destination, the sounds of carefree and happy children and their friends coming to and from. The relaxing of schedules made way for families to be able to do more, be more, play more, and enjoy more. Wading pools and homemade popsicles and old movies and day camps or VBS and many, many more nostalgic moments that moms have with their kids.

My mom was one of those who responded, and her favorite memory was when we would stay at the beach for a week each summer. We would pack up blankets, lunches, sand toys and head down to the sand, finding the perfect spot. Once the blankets were spread, we would endeavor to build what usually became a rather large sand castle, usually with a rather large "moat" in the middle. I remember we would try to dig a trench to the ocean so that when the tide came in the moat would fill. Then the next day, we'd do the same thing all over again with different sandwiches in the cooler at lunchtime.

So I watched my kids this summer. I watched them play in the dirt and run through bubbles and recoil at sprinklers and splash in a pool and throw rocks in the town lake while wading ankle deep in the water. I watched them kick soccer balls and let sand run through their fingers and slide down slides. I watched them lick ice cream off of their spoons and gnaw on corn cobs and watermelon rinds. I watched them find the joy of the burst of taste that a fresh blueberry allows when it has come straight from the bush. I watched them get inches away from a dragonfly perched atop a branch of a rosebush. I watched as they felt the joy of grass between their toes and flowers picked between their fingers. I watched as they changed from being afraid of thunderstorms to being in awe of them as we explained thunder, lightning, and observed the pouring rain. I watched them dip their fingers in puddles and reach out from the safety of the porch to get their fingers wet.

I watched them play. I watched them run. I watched them wonder.

I watched as through them my summers became magical again.

Maybe... maybe through them, they've become even more magical.

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