Yesterday, I went to the beach for the first time this summer. As I dodged the small children and parents building sand castles and jumping the waves, I felt an overwhelming pang of nostalgia.
When our own children were young, I was sucked into that frantic, working-mom scramble the minute summer arrived. You know, the one where you patch together day care and play dates and summer camps. The one where you never have a minute to yourself. If the children are small, you can't leave them on their own for a second. If they're bigger, all the kids do is whine about why can't they go to the mall/movies/a sleepover with that kid who just pierced her lip.
That's what chaos does: It frees you from the ordinary.
When the kids are home, vacations mean driving. Lots of driving: to see grandparents or climb mountains or go to a matinee or the beach. And driving means fighting: he pinched me-she hit me fights that drill through your skull until you yell, “Don't make me pull this car over!”
(We never did pull the car over. My husband and I couldn't bear the thought of the drive lasting one more second.)
Later, when the kids are older, summer means staying up until they bring the car home or the cops call. Or kicking teenagers off the porch because the music is too loud, or you're afraid they'll burn the barn down with all that smoke.
And then it's over. Or maybe there is one kid left at home who's still in college, but that kid is now carrying his laptop to work and wearing khakis and is responsible about mowing the lawn.
“Sorry, Mom,” he says. “I can't go to the beach. I have to work.”
Where did all the chaos go? And how did you reach a point in your life where you're wishing for just a little of that chaos to blow back through?
“It's so peaceful now,” my husband says.
Yes, but I want those days of uncertainty back. The days when you wake up and look at the weather like some Kansas farmer, squinting and saying, “Well, kids, I guess we can go to the pond again today.” Or, “Hey, how about watching a movie? It's raining again.”
I want the kids clamoring for snacks right after breakfast, so that I can make ants on a log with raisins marching along celery sticks slathered with peanut butter. I want the kids building a fort out of couch cushions because they're so bored, and then shrieking with delight because they find that lost Barbie shoe or Lego. I want them tumbling in the yard like puppies.
I want. I want.
Summer with kids at home is a special kind of freedom.
Is it actually my children that I'm missing? Or my own youthful camp counselor exuberance? Or is it the time when my work schedule was hijacked by summer? Those weeks and months where I had to say, “Sorry, but I can't work Friday. No day care.” And then packing the kids into the car for an impromptu trip to Plum Island or the aquarium, or setting up the Slip'N Slide in the yard so they could horse around while I read a book on the porch?
Yes. It is that. I miss the summers that seemed to stretch into infinity. The summers where I could spontaneously pack the kids into the car. The weeks where I was sometimes trapped at home on a rainy day with the kids, bored out of my skull, forced to play My Pony Princess or Dungeons and Dragons, my mind wandering because that's what chaos does: It frees you from the ordinary. What's the point of a schedule until you know the weather? Why wash the floor if the kids are just going to track more sand into the house in 10 minutes?
Summer with kids at home is a special kind of freedom. That's what I miss: The freedom to toss ordinary routines — and even work — out the window, because the kids are calling my name, saying, “Play with me! Come on, Mom. Just five more minutes.”
Just five more minutes. I gave those minutes to them, and I'm so glad I did. I only wish there were more.