(This month’s Muse for the Alameda Sun)
There are certain times of the year that make me want to sink into nostalgia and wallow in tradition, and summer is definitely one of those times (Christmas is another). While enjoying the full benefits of summer on a foggy Island in the Bay is sometimes a challenge, this year I am determined to enjoy every minute of our “warm” season.
Summer, with its long hours of daylight and the feeling that we should be allowed to laze a bit, makes me sleepy, makes me want to read long intricate novels and enjoy seasonal foods like cool watermelon and buttery corn on the cob and juicy, dripping nectarines. A whiff of chlorine, even in the dead of winter, can give me a rush that says, “Swimming pools! Must be summer!” Yeah, that’s me lingering in the laundry room with a jug of bleach. Just for the memories, you know.
Having the kids out of school for summer gives them a chance to experience a bit of those long summer weeks and months without structure, and gives me a chance to inflict some of my favorite traditions upon them, I mean, improve their minds and souls and help them get ahead in life.
We have a tradition at our house, whereby, on the very last day of school at the dinner table, we list in manic profusion all the exciting and adventurous things we’re planning to do over summer. In past years we’ve listed such activities as swimming lessons, the library’s summer reading program, day camp, hiking, reading great books aloud, running through the sprinkler and finding the ice cream man when we have the right number of coins for a treat.
As the girls grew older, our list morphed from fun kid-centric activities to more mature outings, like a day-trip to San Francisco, a visit to the county fair or a museum. I’ve led them in homemade science projects and working on Brownie badges, and tried to encourage useful projects like cooking, working on a quilt together, or learning a new skill like origami or crochet.
Naturally, my children hate me.
What could be more odious than having a mom like Martha Stewart who tries to make you do stuff all summer long, when you just finished nine grueling months of doing stuff that you hated? Read? Study flashcards? Make handicrafts out of Popsicle sticks and orange yarn? Uh, how about no?
Yeah, well. So they hate me. What else is new? I’ve gotten used to this over the years as the promoter of such horrid tasks as the brushing of teeth, of wiping and flushing, the putting on of clean underpants more than once a week, and of saying “Thank you” when prodded roughly in the shoulder blade.
While it is true that I have only the best of intentions (don’t we all?), it is also true that when I was a young teen, I had hours of time to get tan, read Tiger Beat, ride the pony bareback around the hot hayfields, pick blackberries to eat up in a tree and daydream of being kissed by handsome Lars Noren in the sheep barn. I had chores to do every day but when they were done, my time was my own. Was that so wrong?
Well, no. But obviously that was then and this is now. And there’s nothing quite so annoying to adults, I mean me, as teens sitting around with headphones on or attempting to bypass the “no TV” rule, smirking and sulking, texting and checking their MySpaces for updates on who’s gonna be at the Warped tour, or how many new friends they’ve added online. Having fun and all that.
Perhaps this is the malaise of a new, ungrateful generation. Perhaps it is the frustration of mine, feeling both nostalgia for the past and hopes for their (bright? dim?) futures. Or none of the above. It could very possibly be the beginning of that other summer tradition, the “how many more weeks till school starts” syndrome that most stay-home moms I know begin to suffer, oh, just about now.
Yes, pretty soon the Back to School sales will begin, and there will be orientations and summer reading that wasn’t finished and we’ll all feel the excitement of getting ready for a new school year. I think I’ll feel it the most.
Because, as hot and delicious and fleeting as summer is, there is no sweeter sound in the universe than the echoing stillness of an empty house after the kids have gone back to school in September.