"And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer." --F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
“I just realized that tomorrow is the last day of school,” I said to the Trader Joe’s cashier. "It came fast."
“I know; I’m in mourning,” said the woman to the register next to me, adding something about dreading the time she was going to be at home with her children during the summer.
I was buying gerber daises to use in assembling bouquets for my son’s teachers and sliced apples for our drive to the beach. I’d never had a summer with him, I told the cashier, at least not entirely. So I was looking forward to it.
We have plenty of summer memories, of course. Taking him with me as I traveled on a reporting trip here or there, or down to see relatives in Florida for long weekends. But as a mom who worked outside the home for 11 of his 11 years, I’d secretly longed for an actual summer together, the kind that I’d had as a child.
Not a year would go by, when, at Memorial Day, I didn’t mention this to a friend. “What would an actual summer be like as an adult?” One where I didn’t have to get up at midnight to jockey for a place in line at myraid a day camp -- knights in training, water play. He didn’t mind those camps when he was smaller, but got restless with the monotony of it all. I did too, often times wondering if there wasn’t a better way as I pulled away from the YMCA, or sped toward it to make pickup time.
Here I will stop to say that I recognize the privilege in which I operate. My husband and I could afford to send our son to summer camps (including two years of weeklong sleep away camp). Last year, when it became clear the piecemeal camp routine wouldn’t work for him (think: boredom, occasional tears, frustration) we shared a sitter with another family.
Fast forward to this year: my first without a traditional office job. Which leads me to being at Trader Joe’s midday, buying flowers and snacks, and the offhanded comment from my fellow shopper.
“I liked being at home with my kids during summer,” the cashier said.
“I’ve never done it,” I replied. “But always wanted to.”
I said this before I hustled home to finish a story, the first one I’d been assigned in my new work. I’d still be working, but not in the way I was used to. And I’d still have help -- a sitter I’d arranged before my office job went away. But I wouldn’t have the 45-minute commute, the racing against the clock, the nagging feeling that summer, and the days of my son’s youth, were passing by while I was sitting in a conference room.
I’d missed all the summers of his elementary years. Now, though I didn’t plan it this way, I would not miss the one before he entered middle school, all legs and curiosity.
There was anxiety, yes, because it was also the first time I’d been without a direct deposit that hit the first and 15th of the month, an important part of our family’s income. But it would work out. I trusted that in the way I trusted the summer. Summer was where my creativity was born, long days floating in my family pool, roaming the halls of the library.
I hoped my son would have the same thing, if for one summer, as we learned to live in the rhythm of a new season.