Warning: this post contains several disclaimers, which I’m pretty sure is poor form in the blogosphere — and in the world of writing, generally (i.e. “sorry, this piece of writing kind of sucks because I’ve been stressed out lately, but bear with me…”).
First, I’m feeling a little distracted today. We dropped our kids off for a week of summer camp on Sunday. Anyone who knows me will remember last summer when Zoe went to camp for the first time. The drop-off was less than inspiring. First we had to sit in the car for 45 minutes during an horrendous storm before we could unload; Zoe immediately fell in a huge mud puddle and soaked her bottom getting out of the car; the cabin was cramped, dark, and crowded with wet, stressed-out parents all trying to get their kids settled at the same time; good byes were hurried. We drove away feeling uneasy and anxious, and that feeling lingered — exaserbated by the dearth of happy, candid photos of my daughter on the camp website — for the next three days, until I got the first letter from Zoe saying she was having a great time.
Fast forward to summer 2012. Once again, it’s time for camp. Zoe is a pro by now — but this time, it’s Alexander’s first year. Cue the maternal anxiety. But wait! Before you decide I’m a totally neurotic parent, know that I’m sending Zander off with a freshly broken arm and terrible poison ivy that has been keeping him awake and miserable every night for the past two weeks. Oh, yeah, and he’s practically blind without his glasses (which I neglected to even mention to his counselor or write down anywhere on any of the forms). So, yeah, I’m a little worried. And therein lies the heart of disclaimer #1: “I can’t write a good blog post because I’m unsettled and distracted!”
Second, I must confess that I started this post several weeks ago and have been working on it, half-heartedly, ever since. As blogging goes, this is not a great approach. The best blog posts I’ve written (in my humble opinion) have sprung almost fully-formed directly from heart, mind, soul (or where ever the home of inspired writing is located) to paper/ computer. Thus, disclaimer #2: “This blog post might be disjointed and meandering because it’s taken me forever to write.” OK, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, here goes…
A friend from my poetry group just adopted a baby boy. He and his wife are my age (i.e. mid-forties), and I’ve been wondering how that is for them — waking up in the night, soothing a fussy infant, cradling a mysterious and amazing new life. I feel as though I’m at the other end of that journey — not THE journey, the one that ends in… well, you know… But that I’m at a distinct point on the arc of life or, more specifically, nearing an end in a phase of my parenting life. I’m feeling the passing of time in a different way this summer.
No, my children are not graduating from high school, getting married or even learning to drive. They only turned 11 a few weeks ago. They’re not very sophisticated or savvy kids, still not terribly “teen-ish”, I’m happy to say. Nevertheless, I feel it — like a cool summer breeze blowing through an open door in another part of the house. Things are changing. For the first time, the idea of my kids “growing up” and eventually leaving has started to enter my consciousness in a more tangible way. Maybe it’s because some of my friends who have older children are hitting big milestones, which makes it more real. Maybe it’s their souls speaking to mine — beginning to whisper goodbye.
This summer has been great in lots of ways (and not so great in others). Zoe and Alexander have taken their outdoor free time to a new level. Our neighborhood is perfect for doing all the terrific things that people say kids don’t do enough of these days — riding bikes, exploring, building tree forts, selling lemonade, picking blueberries, inventing things, making kid plans. I’ve loved seeing my kids re-connecting with old friends and reaching out to new ones — taking initiative, trying new things. They are bolder and more confident than I was at their age.
With this increased independence has come some unexpected consequences: both my children have had their first broken bones this summer. In mid-June, Zoe crushed her thumb playing with an antique lawn roller behind my husband’s metal shop (yes, that’s about as bad as it sounds). Almost exactly a month later, Alexander bobbled his bike riding uphill on a gravel road in our neighborhood, fell into a ditch full of poison ivy, and broke his wrist.
They’ve both handled their injuries well. I’ve been impressed with their toughness and self-sufficiency. The hardest thing in all of this has been Alexander’s poison ivy. He’s called me into his room many nights over the past few weeks — beside himself with the pain and itching. Even as I do my best to soothe him, this unexpected need for parental comfort paradoxically triggers an acute sense in me of my children’s growing independence and the waning of their childhood days.
I wrote this poem when the kids were six. It’s one that a lot of my friends have seen already, but it’s really resonating for me this summer.
My son will be the last boy
to know Pluto was once a planet.
At six, he’s well-versed
in nostalgia and remorse,
the quiver of injustice.
Little Pluto’s an easy mark
for a child’s empathy. Even now,
nothing’s simple for him, my small
brilliant star, thin-skinned
and yearning to be good
at all things. Done with
the trying day, he sleeps hard
and fast. I enter his room
for the nightly ritual,
darkening the fish tank,
quick kiss of hot forehead.
There’s a galaxy here,
and I’m only a visitor.
I miss him already.
We’re doomed that way,
he and I, regretting the shot
before the arrow’s loosed,
ready to reminisce when
the day’s not yet spent.
We both know, after all,
that the universe
We’re moving apart,
faster and faster.
Summer’s nearly over for us. School starts on August 8 (just a few days after the kids return from camp). I go back to work full-time the same day. In past summers (last year comes to mind), I’ve been eager for school to start — feeling overdone, ready to return to routines and regular schedules. This summer, I’m not feeling that way.
I want more.
In the meantime, no letter from Alexander, but I did see a picture of him with a smile on his face on the camp website. Last year, when filling out a post-camp evaluation, I suggested that the camp director, or a counselor, could send a one time email to the parents of first-time campers at the beginning of session, letting them know that all was well. The response I got (boiled down to its essence): Don’t call us; we’ll call you. We can handle it. No news is good news.
I hope your summers have been interesting and inspiring, full of joy, exploration and growth. Please post your own summer thoughts!