Columbia River, Kennewick, WA.
Summer announces its light on our calendar like the sun right before it begins to set. We put up our patio umbrellas and shades and feel quite “cool” in the sun’s warm glow. Things start to fall into place and we feel “Life is good” here. For a moment, I can picture my younger, more careless self cruising fast in my car with the windows down in one hundred degree heat. The CD player would be blasting Led Zeppelin to drown out the noise of the wind. But there would be other drivers on a five lane highway whose music was louder. It was like a drive-through party.
The further into summer we get, the brighter the colors of the summer sunset. We know summer won’t last forever and so we try to make the most of each moment we have with it. Mothers with multiple children often hear, “I bet you can’t wait for school to start so your kids will get out of your hair!” There may be some who feel that way but that just isn’t me. Although I admit I said almost this exact thing to my friend Gayleen one day to make chit chat. She just looked at me and answered, “No. I don’t feel like we’ve done enough on our bucket list.”
I didn’t think anything of what she said until August came. August, with the dimmed light of the sun approaching the horizon reminding us that school will soon be in session and that means routines and responsibilities and less leisure time with our children. “Want to go to Leavenworth for the weekend?” I asked my husband. I didn’t even hear his response and I said, “We just have to go.” There wasn’t an option in my mind. Something having to do with sunsets and bucket lists.
The weekend was everything I hoped it would be: I watched each of my children smiling from ear to ear and not because I had just handed them a popsicle that would melt in thirty seconds and end as a stain on the cement (a reminder of red food dye and some article I read somewhere telling me I was a bad mom for letting my child eat it). Nope-these smiles were imprinting memories-the good kind that I know they will call out at some future point in their adult, mundane lives and relive again and again. Those are the kind of smiles I live for as a mother. Those are the smiles that get me out of bed in the morning. But weekends also have a sunset and it was time to go home.
Denial. No panic. No, it’s just denial. School starts next week and I find myself in total denial. I see memes in my social media feed with mothers drinking a toast to “Back-to-School” and I wonder, “Why don’t I feel that way?” Even my own mother is sure that I should. But summer with children is wonderful-yes, it is a physical feat to pack up four young children in a mini-van and chase them at the splash pad, it’s definitely not as chillaxing as cruisin’ down the road listening to Zeppelin. And the meal times seem to happen every five minutes (something about summer makes trips to the grocery store feel almost futile because children can graze similarly to cattle but a pasture doesn’t fit in my Kenmore). But there’s time not to rush and I think therein lies the beauty of summer.
It was Back-to-School night. I met their teachers. I read the disclosures and I signed my name fully understanding I was agreeing to far more than was outlined on the paper: the highs and lows that not only the academics bring but the social aspect as well, and the really annoying term project that feels like a contest of “Most Dedicated Parent.” I’m agreeing to not have complete say in every little experience, but I’m wishing that my darlings will have everything I want them to have and experience this year and none of the things I don’t want. But it is pointless to hope that because I’m not in the driver’s seat anymore. I’m sending them out for a test drive to see how they do. I want them to hear music from the other driver’s and I want them to feel the exhilaration of the hum of the engine above their own feet.
Not for the whole day. That is for sure. After school, they are mine again and they better not come home crying. But I’m letting go of the driver’s seat for part of the day and hoping for the best. But no one ever said, “When you have kids, every fall you will post porch pictures of them because it is your small way of capturing time in so many pixels.” No one said, “When you have kids, you will go to Back-to-School night and see the kids you went to school with who are now grown up like you and have three or four kids-but guess what? You won’t feel like you are grown up and you will wonder how this is all happening.”
I think what it comes down to for me is the constant frustration as a parent that my children will never really know how much I love them. And summer is supposed to be just that. It’s supposed to be parents and children reunited with a common purpose in frivolity and poolside slushies. But as my dad told me once at the end of a particularly enjoyable family vacation as I bemoaned and complained about having to go back to work, “What do you propose? We can’t just sit around and have a perpetual hug fest.” Maybe love isn’t meant to be sipping slushies poolside.
For all these reasons above, that is why a formerly confident, childless teacher finds herself scrambling for inner peace at this seeming madness we like to call an elementary education. I have to hold back when I introduce myself to the teachers. I want to announce first thing: “I was a teacher as well and so no wrong moves, Teach!” But I don’t. I remember I’m not driving-this is not all about me, it’s about my kid. I’m just a passenger (I prefer “driving coach”) and my children get to go out into the world for part of the day and succeed and fail and succeed. It’s part of a classic education. But at this point, it’s not hard to tell who’s being schooled the most.
My sisters’ dear friend Circe posted a picture of her young child running through the summer grass with her friends and captioned it, “They don’t know summer’s leaving, and that when it returns, they’ll be entirely different girls. But I know. Ouch.” That’s the real clincher. And I can just hear my mother, “What a bunch of babies you all are! You need a hobby.” And that is why I love her. So buck up, no eternal hug fests here: summer is gone, but it will come back. Yes, Circe, they will be entirely different girls and actually dearie, so will you, and I can’t wait to see the beautiful colors you’ll paint together across the sky.