We call them our boys of summer, and not just because they were all born near the solstice, three in June and one in July. Our children met up much like we did, by happenstance, dropped off in the same nursery school — before we moms all hurried off to jobs that suddenly seemed less important, yet critical to maintaining our sanity.
We watched our babies grow, from small bellies bulging over waistbands to young boys with long, lean limbs. We marveled together over their firsts — crawling, walking — and those less dramatic but equally remarkable, such as the first time all four decided to be superheroes for Halloween, brandishing a Superman “S” or Batman wings on their tiny chests.
We looked on as they sang “This Little Light of Mine” at preschool graduation, donning white caps and gowns. It seemed improbable, how grown up they’d become in such a short time. We promised to stay in touch, even as that fall we watched them parade into kindergarten at different schools, in different towns and tried to staunch our tears.
With each passing summer, we gathered at nearby beaches, determined to keep our boys’ friendships alive (though really they needed us only for transportation). Nantasket. Humarock. Houghton’s Pond. Gun Rock. While they dug holes and tunnels in the sand, we traded stories about kindergarten and expectations for 5-year-olds that sometimes struck us as overwhelming, unreasonable. Our boys scoured the tide pools for starfish.
By the summer of first grade, they were swimming, and we followed them into the bracing water of the Atlantic. We swapped book titles, eager for books that would appeal to reluctant young readers. Our boys, meanwhile, picked up right where they’d left off last August, comparing mosquito bites that zigzagged across their bodies like chicken pox. By second grade, they’d forsaken sandcastles for tossing a football on the beach, a firm Nerf that sometimes collided with our beach chairs. The following summer all they wanted was to body-surf in the waves while we moms wondered when was too soon to start our boys, who were losing that sweet-boy smell, on deodorant.
“Do you think they’ll remember these summers?” one mom asked. I nodded my head ... How could they not?
Over the years, we watched as their bodies turned from pale, fish-belly white to shades of honeyed brown in the sun, the swim-shirts they once wore abandoned for bare chests. Boys too cool for their mothers’ lame attempts at fashion. Sunburnt shoulders, pinked cheeks, they were growing up, despite our best attempts to freeze time.
Then, this summer, they all hit 10. Double digits. One boy arrived at our annual get-together with his hair streaked blue, another with long blond surfer hair, each one’s personality peeking through. We remarked on how patiently they answered our pesky questions with full sentences, sometimes even paragraphs. Gone were the days of shy one-word responses, or the hours when they demanded our constant vigilance. Our patience with them seemed to be growing in synch with their vocabulary.
As if by magic, this summer a dock appeared at one of our favorite beach spots, a new speck in the familiar blue sea, and the boys spent hours swimming out to it and jumping off (when they weren’t trying to catch a monster crab that lurked beneath). We breathed more easily, watching our kids playing again after a school year that, we all agreed, felt inordinately serious, geared toward essay writing and standardized tests.
“Do you think they’ll remember these summers?” one mom asked. I nodded my head, probably both out of conviction and wishful thinking. How could they not?
There were so many reasons to remember. The ease with which they come together each year, sliding into their old rapport like a comfortable sweater. The annual games of Wiffle ball and football on the sand. The thrum of the waves as they skip rocks from the shore. Memories of coolers packed with sandwiches and snacks, we moms forever chasing them with sunblock.
Our boys may not let us hold their hands anymore. In fact, quite often they shrug off our hugs these days. But we’d like to think the bonds they’ve formed with each other will stick around well into high school, maybe even beyond. Because in a world where life seems to move at an increasingly frenetic pace, such friendships take on extra heft. Their circle of friends has expanded, of course, but these summer boys — first pals in preschool — still tick off each other’s names when asked to list best friends.
The nights are growing cooler, the leaves beginning to turn. We’re grateful our boys will always have these days of summer to circle back to, that glorious time when the days were long and the nights short. And everything smelled of suntan lotion.