So here's the situation. I have no vacation time. None. Nada. Between this past winter's many blizzards, the inexplicable days off given to children throughout the school year, random illnesses and my kids' innumerable school activities that required my attendance, I used every last stitch of vacation for the year that I have. And, to be honest, I don't regret it. I wouldn't have missed being my son's "Mystery Reader" or helping him and his second grade classmates build gingerbread houses for the world. Nor would I have been able to live with myself if I missed out on all of my daughter's eighth grade year festivities...all 9,000 of them (yes, I am using my God-given right as a mother to insert hyperbole whenever I see fit).
But, I have to say, when I woke this morning to a crystal clear blue sky, the sun blazing already, birds chirping, and the sounds of my kids laughing in the living room, it killed me a little to get up, get dressed in work clothes, and leave the house for a full day shut up in a meat-locker of an office (the air conditioning has only one setting: Subzero) and stare at a computer screen all day (though occasionally I do get up and walk over to the kitchenette to fill up my teacup just to spice things up a bit).
Working during the summer is brutal. No way to get around it. And not just for me. My kids are stuck home till I arrive at 4 p.m. to take them to the library, pool, friends' houses, wherever. They manage. Lucky for me, my daughter loves to read and the days fly by for her. My son keeps himself busy with Legos and summer reading, but I know that they are bored and the days are just as long for them as they are for me. And there is no better tell than the fact that even my teenage daughter comes running out of the house every day to greet me when my car pulls in the drive: "Yeah, you're home! Now we can do something fun!"
And the fun I intend to bring. No doubt about it. I love the summer. Always have. As a child it meant endless hours of free play, trips in my mom's station wagon to Mt. Tom in Connecticut to swim in the lake all day with my siblings, visit with our grandfather, and climb the surrounding hills. It meant evenings at my Aunt Linda's pool with my sisters, brothers, and my cousins. Sometimes our parents would even get hot enough to jump in and chase us around or toss us in the air. But, mostly it was us kids screaming at the adults, who were trying desperately to sip their wine in peace and quiet, to "Look at me!" every five seconds to make sure they could see all of our cool tricks as we jumped in. The pencil. The flip. The cannonball. "The Triple Lindy." It meant red, white, and blue bomb-pops from the ice cream truck at sundown. It meant my dad hitting us balls out into the yard when he got off duty. It meant pick-up baseball games in the middle of the street with the Rendas, Kohuts, Saunders, and other neighborhood kids. It meant forts in the woods. Tree houses. Taking off our shoes and walking into the Still River and filling up buckets with crayfish. It meant climbing under the train bridge downstream and waiting for the train to come barreling over us. It meant walks to the store with my sisters to buy a piece of Bazooka gum for a nickel. It meant trips to the library. The woods. My grandfather's house. Strawberry picking in Southbury. The Morris family annual Fourth of July picnic. It also meant at some point all ten of us would steal away together to the Cape to visit our Massachusetts family or head south to see our cousins in Virginia. It meant the Connecticut seashore. Lake Candlewood. Lake Kenosia. The Farmington River. It meant day trips (sometimes middle of the night trips--long story for another time) to the city. Yankee games. Visits to LI for the NY relatives. It always, always included some large body of water. Sandcastles. Boats. (Someone always had a boat.) Burnt shoulders and noses. Sticky fingers. Scratched knees. Dirty fingernails. Heavy sleeps. And lazy mornings.
We weren't rich. Did I mention there were eight of us? That my father was a firefighter? That my mom was a teacher? But, we didn't need to be to have the fun we did. The good old-fashioned, pile-in-the-car-sweat- your- ass-off-and-sing-Neil Diamond-"Forever in Blue Jeans"- at- the- top- of- your- lungs-until- some- jackass-cuts-your-dad-off-on-the-Mass-Pike-and-he-yells-and-everyone- gets-quiet-and-scared- for-two-seconds-before-laughing kind of fun. There were no iPads, Wiis, flatscreens, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, pool memberships, enrichment camps, summer theater programs, or even supervision. But, somehow, we survived.
So though no beach is on the horizon. No trips to the city. And not even a day off to call my own, I will do my best and all to give my kids some bit of summer I remember so fondly.
And here's the 5 things I plan to do:
1. We're gonna light it up!
Yup, we're going to burn some stuff. (Spoken like a daughter of a firefighter). What's summer without sitting outside around a fire with friends and just doing nothing, but keeping warm and filling up on processed sugary goodness of marshmallows and Hershey bars between graham crackers? We don't do it every night, and there are nights in July that are so ungodly hot here in Cincinnati, sitting by a fire is just stupid. But, there are plenty of great nights that it totally makes sense, and so we're going to do it. (Props to my husband and son for building this pit. We previously just had a hole in the ground that we used. But, we classed it up last year when they built an actual pit with 30 dollars worth of pavers from Home Depot.)
2. We're going to cook and eat together whenever we can.
God bless the grill! The herb pot garden! The produce section at the super Kroger! I LOVE SUMMER FOOD. Nothing better than a nice glass of wine, some fresh veggies from the garden, and some fish or meat that is freshly grilled. And there is no better feeling to sit down to a meal and know that there is absolutely no place to be. No time schedule to keep, no homework that needs to be done, no meeting that needs to be attended, no practice that a child needs to be dashed to. Long live the long, summer meal on the patio! (And in the air conditioning--when it gets really gross out). This is a pic of my favorite summer meal: Grilled veggies, fresh basil, goat cheese, on a grilled baguette with a bit of a balsamic glaze. Easy and ready in less than 10 minutes!
3. We're going to plant and tend a garden.
Seems simple enough. Dig hole. Drop seed. Water. Watch grow. But, turns out gardening is a hell of a lot more involved. You need the right soil. The right amount of sun. The right amount of space to grow, and on, and on. You need to weed out the bad stuff. Feed your flowers nourishing food. Separate them when they start to crowd each other out. Sounds a lot like parenting, no? Cuz it is. And it happens to be one of the best things we do together as a family. Colm is my go-to guy with the spade and shovel. He'll do anything for a chance to dig. Brigid will take any chance she gets to spray water at her brother--and the flowers. Greg is my weed man. He can spot them a mile away and spends far too much time thinking about ways to prevent them in the garden and the grass, but I digress. And me, I just know what looks pretty and where to put everything. (Rule Number One of Motherhood: Delegate. Rule 2. Delegate some more. ) So together we make a great team. And there is nothing better than sitting back and watching everything bloom and grow. And I am not just talking about the flowers. (This is a Ranunculus. One of my Spring favorites. It means "radiant.")
4. Read. Read. Read.
Goes without saying, this is a must. We take weekly trips to the library, Joseph-Beth Booksellers (our favorite indie) and even Target's book section. I have a stack about two feet high next to bed, and it is growing every day. While I am gone at work Brigid reads on her iPad. (We don't judge how people like to read their books, just if they do or don't. I kid. I kid. Ok, not really. I can be sorta judgy.) She's downloaded a list of 100 books every kid in high school should read, and she is hacking away at the list one page of Gatsby at a time. Colm picks his books out at the library. One at a time. He likes the sense of accomplishment. And he likes to hold a book in his hand. He is on an E.B. White kick. We finished Charlotte's Web together last week, and he had to read the last few lines aloud for me, because I was too overcome and weepy. "It's OK, mom. It's OK. Charlotte left lots of babies." What he didn't know was I was crying because E.B. White wrote some of the most beautiful sentences in the world, and because Wilbur, like Colm, was all grown up. He got another White book out yesterday. Meanwhile, I am finally getting around to reading Bossypants by Tina Fey (hysterical), and bought several anthologies so I have quick lunch-hour reads. (More on my summer reading later). Needless to say, a summer without books, is no summer at all.
5. We're going to get outside.
Seems simple enough. There are hikes to take. Backyards to explore. The Y pool to swim in. The neighbors' front yards to loiter. The cul-de-sac to scooter circles in. I'll do my best to make sure there is more time spent out than in. But, I have to admit it's not always easy. There are so many distractions--shows to watch, games to play, Lego Death Stars to build, books to read (my kids prefer to read on their beds), that I sometimes have to beg and plead for outdoor time. Sometimes, I admit it, I am heard in the neighborhood "GET IN THE DAMN CAR! WE'RE GOING TO HAVE FUN DAMMIT!" (Nice.) Door slams. I hate you. You're the worst mother ever. And everything else follows that is expected, but twenty minutes later someone is laughing about something they saw or heard, or someone notices a cool tree or a bird on a hike, or someone is getting ready to jump into an irresistible looking cool pool, and then I don't seem like such a terrible mother after all (at least for five minutes).
Happy Summer! And those of you, in my family especially, headed out for vacation--enjoy every second, have a margarita (or two, okay let's be honest, three, but eat some carbs with it so you don't get sick) by the seaside, and think of me sitting in a parka in an office sipping hot tea and thinking only this: At 4 p.m. I am so outta here...