This is it. The last week of summer. What began slow and tremendously, is now mere hours. I can count on one hand what remains to be spent.
It always happens this way: it seems you could never use it all up and then it is gone. 100% rearview.
The days were so long in the beginning. Swim practice in a cold pool. A camp here and there and only in the mornings. The afternoons were always ours to explore. Or not. Sometimes they just watched My Little Ponies: Friendship is Magic while I wandered aimlessly around the house, trying to remember what it was I needed to do (It was laundry. It is always laundry).
In Charleston, the mid-day heat is mostly unbearable. So I would watch them play outside from the upstairs bedrooms, occasionally opening a window to offer suggestions, admonishment, praise.
Use the stool to reach it! You are swinging so well! Stop throwing sand!
One of these afternoons, my youngest daughter decided to enter the darkness under the house to retrieve something she had accidentally dropped into a space cut out of our decking (access to an exterior spigot). When it was initially lost, months ago, I was certain we would never see it again. Who would want to go in there, with all the spider webs and damp earth, and whatever quick creatures like to live among such things? I have never seen such raw pride as when she showed it to me. I believe she will remember that moment for the rest of her life.
It was just a little piece of wood.
I recall the summers of my own childhood; the adventure contained in the box of those ten weeks. The places I went and the things I did alone. Without any need to recognize myself against the backdrop of a classroom, I blossomed. The sense of independence that permeated each day was profound, and I would put on my rollerblades (Yes, rollerblades. It was the 90’s) and skate the rolling hills of my neighborhood, feeling that I had somehow been gifted ownership of June and July, that the minutes of those months would always be mine.
It was nothing. It was everything.
A parent’s business within the frame of the school year often feels forced and unnatural, set to the sound of alarm clocks and tardy bells. I feel like the whole year can be conclusively surmised by one flat word: carpool. So much of it is out of my reach, occurring in places I visit only occasionally, as a volunteer. A bystander with a nametag. But during the summer we are participants, with decent odds for winning.
They are in the pool swimming between my legs, following me through the house, asking the same hilarious questions again and again. I am holding them on sunset boat cruises and waving them in from the shore. Come closer, come to where I can see you, I call. They laugh and walk farther away to jump in the surf and disturb the peculiar clumps of seafoam.
Summer is indeed the strange and beautiful blessing of time.
At the end of these more recent summers, the boldness of my youth has changed course distinctively. I ask myself more and more: Am I doing this right? Did we use the time appropriately? Did we make good memories?
Their school supplies and new uniforms are organized on the dining room table. I’ve caught them going in there to handle the items, the blunt scissors and pre-sharpened pencils. They hold up the shirts and ask to try them on. Their thoughts are always on the next thing, always on what is yet to come. The world is a place they want to grow up and into.
So as these last hours tick by, I resist the impulse to count them. The children are already doing that for me.
What did we do with our summer?
We went to beach all day. We should have left, the sun so hot and their skin so fair. We chased tiny tide pool specimens and dug moats around dripcastles. We walked the long walk back to the steamy car, towing our new blue beach cart, the ringing wave of the cicadas calling us into the dunes.
We were tired, tender, and happy.
We took a trip to Florida with cousins and the baby finally (finally!) agreed to puddle jumpers (life=changed). They leapt into the pool with their dad; cannonballs and jackknives. Precursory dives and intentional belly flops. They made huge splashes that rocked the pool and other times they slipped through the surface of the water, wakeless.
The girls were flower girls in a dear friend’s wedding and went to sleepovers here and there. They begged to watch the most random YouTube videos (Kinder Surprise anyone?), fought constantly, and slept together on the floor of their shared room.
We did nothing, we did everything. We stayed up late and woke up whenever. We moved 10 weeks further along our little track of life.
And, perhaps most marvelously, we recovered a little piece of wood from the crawl space.