There Goes Summer

 

A summer tragedy
 
Now that our sons are older and more independent, one of my true summer joys is a day lounging at our favorite local pool, the small one with the reclining loungers, the water slide, and the vigilant lifeguards who shout “no running” at my kids so I don’t have to. Last week, the gods bestowed upon us an arguably perfect pool day. No menacing thunderheads hovered in the sky, the temperature was a pleasant and steady 83 degrees, and there was the lightest perceptible breeze, the kind that gently reminds you that sometimes all is right in your world. When mornings like that arrive, my day is set. Errands, appointments, laundry, and responsibility be damned. We’re pool bound. There is no other choice. Our fate is sealed. 

After wolfing down the sub sandwiches we picked up from Jimmy John’s on the way over, we began our idyllic summer sabbatical. My goal: complete summer surrender. From under my mirrored sunglasses, I lazily watched our sons take ridiculous leaps (meant to be impressive but in the end only exhibiting typical teenage goofiness) off the diving board while the playlist of LCD Soundsystem in my earbuds kept my feet moving just enough to burn a few calories while I let the sun work its magic. Nothing could be better, I mused to myself, swept away in the glee of a few hours’ worth of unadulterated leisure in the middle of the work week.

That was when he stepped in front of me and everything changed. He must have been about seven, maybe eight, with sandy blonde hair. He stood out because, unlike the other children who had arrived in the same daycare group, he was alone in wearing street clothes and Crocs in place of brightly colored swim trunks and bare feet. A bold orange cast with blue tape, a nod to the Denver Broncos, held his broken arm firmly in place while he stood on the side of the pool watching other kids take acrobatic turns off the diving board. As I looked at him with a mother’s eyes, I found myself wishing there were casts that mended broken hearts as well as broken arms. 

We are less than two weeks away from the start of the 2015-2016 school year here in Denver. All over the city parents are snapping up school supplies while siblings wage frustrated battles with each other in the waning days of summer break. My favorite season is slipping away, and each day closer to school is a heartless reminder of life out of the pool lounger and in the carpool lane. Today, though, I am thinking of that darling little boy with a cast who is probably looking forward to school this year for the first time ever, thinking about friends and structure and the chance to feel again like he belongs.

Our singular experiences comprise our personal tale, but in the end it’s our shared struggles that make our stories worth recounting.

The Upside of Upchuck

The reason I'm mellowing...these kids have both puked on me.
These cute kids have both puked on me.

There are some good things about getting older, particularly if that getting older occurs along with parenthood. In my advancing years, for example, I’ve discovered that I have quite a bit more perspective now than I had in my 30s before I had children. My Type-A, uptight self has been given many opportunities to learn not to sweat the small stuff. I mean, there’s a lot of perspective to gain when you’ve spent hours agonizing over the perfect outfit to wear to an anniversary party at an upscale restaurant only to have your six-year-old vomit on you in the car just as you pull into the parking lot. That’s the universe’s way of telling you to relax a little and stop fussing over things that don’t matter. The universe has been working overtime to correct my anal-retentive tendencies. My mother told me once that if you pray for something, it’s not given to you. Instead you’re provided the opportunity to earn it. My life is proof that her belief is true.

Tomorrow we’re taking the boys up for the first of five ski lessons we’ve enrolled them in. I’m a little anxious because they’re not as excited about it as we are. For most of my life, I’ve been a Nervous Nelly before a new experience. Once, in college, I drank two shots of vodka before going out for Thai food with a date because I’d never been to a Thai restaurant before and there were so many unknowns I was petrified. (A therapist would make a fortune off of me. I know this.) As I’ve gotten older and lived for years with unpredictable children, though, I’ve found a coping mechanism that won’t end in alcoholism. I play the Worst-Case-Scenario game. For example, take our skiing day tomorrow. There are dozens of things that could go wrong. We could get stuck in a snowstorm. We could forget our skis. A kid could drop one glove off a ski lift. We could arrive late and miss the lessons altogether. One of us could tear an ACL. It’s all possible, but it’s not likely. I’ve learned that worrying about the “what ifs” is a colossal waste of time. If we forget our skis, we’ll rent them. If the drive is horrific, we’ll turn around and head home. If one of us tears an ACL, well….that would suck, but it wouldn’t end the world as we know it. The more I’ve realized how unlikely it is that we’ll reach Death Con 5, the less I trouble myself over the small stuff. Gradually, my Threat Level Red decreased to Orange and now at last to Yellow. I’m making progress. I doubt I’ll ever see Green, but you gotta have goals and green is my favorite color.

No matter what happens with our planned ski adventure tomorrow, I know it will all work out one way or another.  I’m grateful that the universe found a way to offer me practice in the things I need. I once thought I did not want to be a parent. The universe knew better. Now I have two boys who are providing me with a great deal of perspective. Because of them, I’m less of an uptight loon than I used to be. I try new foods (without requiring vodka courage). I visit foreign countries. I’m interested in experiencing new things. And I don’t even lose sleep over any of it. It’s incredible how having a little person vomit on you can change you forever.