Summertime is a different beast. The world may rise just as early, on the wings of the sun and the words of a toddler telling me the day is awake, but time pushes throughout the mornings and afternoons in a slow, lazy, unobtrusive dance of daylight and food and nap-time and grass cuttings. Time is measured by hunger and energy. Activity planned by weather and transportation options. Bike paths chosen by whimsy, the roar of the river, and the whine of the toddler. How much longer before we have to turn home? Eh, he’s only crabby because he’s strapped into that bike trailer…he still wants to throw rocks in the river…we can wait.
And this elastic, oozy, bendy, wild daylight emerges as acrylic-painted backdrops and puppy-themed puppet shows. It becomes flips into hammocks and double-decker bike rides. It evolves into swimming at the YMCA followed by a bloody mary breakfast at Pappy’s and a trip to Target to buy new swim goggles for everyone. It’s visits to the History Center and the Oliver Kelley farm and running around the backyard for hours with dips in the kiddie pool. It’s monkey piles in our bedroom before the dogs have been fed in the early hours of the morning and eggs for lunch and one load of laundry on heavy rotation and sandals-no-socks everyday and more napping than when I was on maternity leave and thank god for PBS.
But I also struggle with the little word should. I hate the word should. The word should should be banished. I feel like I should be catching up on books I never have time to enjoy during the school year and I should be watching webinars on vocabulary development or classroom management. I should be attending author readings and making dinner plans with girlfriends I miss during the school year because I’m “too busy” and with whom I promise (in my mind) to reconnect once things settle down a bit. In the summertime. When I’ll recharge and then catch up. Problem is, this downtime is a bit debilitating. Or, maybe contagious is a better word. It starts in my chest and bounces off of Josh and reflects back to me as we sit across from each other in the living room, laptops open on our laps, kids running between us (ignored), and it spreads. In the sense that it’s viral, it also mutates to take the shape of binge-watching Netflix one day and overdosing on politics the next. It plagues the mind and body and it shuts everything off, whispering shhhhhhh. Don’t think about that now. Don’t worry about that now. You can do that later, in a few weeks time. Here, have a glass of wine. Shhhh. But then, the kids.
They don’t drink, ya know, so they still wake up at the same time every day.
Last week, the boys crawled into bed with us in a series of interruptions. First, around 2am, it was Dylan dive-bombing between us. In a recent conversation, Josh made it clear to Dylan that he could snuggle with us in the morning, but not during the night – there’s just not enough room. So I pleaded with my half-sleeping child to move to the rumple of blankets and robes assembled at the side of our bed, to make his own nest. Eventually, he acquiesced, but it felt like only moments passed when, three hours later, little Oscar thudded his way into our room and climbed onto my side, two lovies and one blanket crumpled to his chest. At this point, feeling the sun inch ever so steadily closer to day, I let him stay. But also because he’s tinier and more apt to lie vertical and still, whereas Dylan prefers to use my stomach as a pillow and Josh’s lower back as a leg rest.
The tossing and turning and shifting and pulling sheets and punching pillows into place and heavy sighs and muffled kersnuffles and the anxious paw-falls of the dogs just outside our bedroom door brim with a sticky giddiness and the assurance that all bodies in the house are awake. Still, we pretend otherwise as long as we can. Until, at least, Oscar rolls onto my stomach and presses his face to mine, kissing my lips before he uses his forefinger and thumb to pry open my eyes. “Open yo eyessss” he demands. I pull away defensively, turning my head to the right, and find myself staring directly into Dylan’s open eyes.
“Mommy?” he asks in his outside voice, “What’s a habitat?”
“Ummm…it’s your environment, where creatures live.”
“Like your food?”
“Yeah, that’s part of it.”
“And the trees?”
“A forest!” Oscar shouts, rolls across my mid-section once again.
“Yes. The trees. A forest is one kind of habitat…”
“Because that’s what they said in Wild Krats…”
I stop listening and try to stretch my legs.
“Mommy?” Dylan again. “I have some more things to tell you.”
“Mommy? Do you know the demigorgon is in your room right now?”
“Yeah – he’s snuggling with us.”
“Oh. So he’s a nice demigorgon?”
“Yeah. Well, he’s just my pretend friend. And he’s camouflaged. And Mommy?”
“What’s Caillou’s teacher’s name?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never watched that show.”
“Well, actually you have. Lots of times.”
“No. Just because it’s on, doesn’t mean I’m watching it.”
“Oh. Well, her name’s Ms. Martin. Isn’t that a funny name?”
“I don’t think it’s that funny.”
Half an hour later, Dylan and Oscar crunch Honey O’s at the breakfast table while I move between the back hall and the kitchen folding laundry, letting the dogs outside, filling the tea kettle with water, searching for swim trunks and swim diapers.
“Mommy?” Dylan asks with a mouthful, “What’s an alien?”
“Umm…it’s something from out of this world, or, I suppose, sometimes it’s used to describe someone from outside this country, but I don’t think that’s accurate. Why – where did you hear that – on Ready Jet Go!?”
“No, on Magic Schoolbus!”
“Oh,” I mumble, and think simultaneously: my kids watch way too much TV.
And then that word should crops up, uninvited. Oh, the guilt. The shame: They should watch less TV. They should be more active. We should read more books. We should…
But then I stop myself. I cut myself off. I dump six heaping tablespoons of ground coffee into my French press, and remember my #summergoals, in two categories:
- Prevent kids from swallowing: Mr. Potato Head’s ear, the wheel from a toy car, wood chips, etc.
- Prevent kids from falling off of: furniture, bikes, fences, etc.
- Prevent kids from falling out of: hammocks, cars, etc.
- Prevent kids from falling into: rivers, lakes, dog poop, etc.
- Prevent kids from pooping: in their pants, in the pool, etc.
- Prevent kids from throwing tantrums in: grocery stores, libraries, cars, kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms, parks, anywhere in my vicinity, etc.
- Encourage kids to be independent (e.g. learn how to dress, feed, and wipe oneself)
- Encourage kids to eat vegetables (potato chips don’t count)
- Encourage kids to be creative (not on walls, floors, or bodies)
I roll my shoulders back, and find my voice:
“Hey boys – if you’re both good in the pool this morning, we’ll go to storytime at the library, followed by PB&J for lunch, and then we’ll watch Caillou before naptime!” I sell this like it’s Christmas morning and they’re cheering before I even mention the cartoons I’ll let them watch this morning while we get our adult selves ready to go.
The questions continue on the way to the YMCA. What is energy? Where do we get it from? Where do we go when we die? Why do I (Dylan) have to die? And why are you (Mommy) so mean?
They’re fine. We’re fine. I’m fine. The world may not be fine but, for the moment, we’re fine. I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve got good coffee and access to instagram. My swimsuit is clean and there are about four LaCroix’s left in the fridge before we need to grocery shop again. We’re not having company until August 9th, so there’s plenty of time to clean my house before then. And the most stabilizing reassurance of all is that there’s no way my kids will ever watch as much Quantum Leap and Three’s Company and Charles in Charge as I did when I was slightly older than they are now…so they’ll be fine. I’ll just be over here with my feet up, wine in hand. Because it’s summertime. And I’m the Mom.