Do you remember that day when we went on the rides this summer? It was that blazing hot day in July. Ours was a minivan brigade with your cousins trailing behind us. We drove from Sea Isle to Ocean City and parked in the first open spot that we found. We made the trek to the boardwalk to get seven kids out of your grandparent’s house before the afternoon rain started. But the rain never came, so we shouted over the carnival music “just buy more tickets!” So we did. We bought and we rode. The music played and we yelled. And there were copious amounts of cotton candy. Never ending bags. Your lips were lined blue and pink with sweet crystals that never quite made it into your mouths.
Remember when I kicked off my flip flops and followed you to that ride…the swings suspended from chains that go around and around in circles? I was so excited! Excited to go on the swings, but even more excited to be the Mom…your Mom…who goes on the swings with her kids. It matters to me, you guys. What you think about me. Yes, I know you love me. But Dad is like fun on crack. Exponential fun. Funfetti. And I like to do fun things with you too. And there’s a part of me that hopes that you think “I love that we have a Mom who does fun things with us.” But you probably just think, “I told her blue cotton candy. Why did she just hand me pink?”
So I ran with you. With the sun on my face, cotton candy dissolving on my tongue, sweat trailing down my back, carnival music playing in my ears, we ran toward the swings together. To the seats that were lined up along the outside because those are the ones that swing the highest. We buckled ourselves in, and I smiled when I realized that my bare feet didn’t even touch the ground. “Ha,” I thought, “will you look at me? Just like one of the kids.”
And then the ride started.
And my smile disappeared.
I white knuckled the chains of that swing as we flew higher and higher and circled around faster and faster.
My body flew horizontally through the air. My eyes were clenched tightly closed, and I spoke these words aloud. “I’m OK. I’m OK. I’m OK.”
Maybe if I open my eyes it will be better.
I opened my eyes just long enough to notice you boys throwing your heads back with joy. And just long enough to realize that opening my eyes didn’t help.
“I’m OK. I’m OK. I’m OK,” back to the mantra and the eye closing.
I willed myself to swallow down the rising bile and focus instead on your laughter.
“Hi, Mom! Don’t throw up!”
That was you, Verb. You weren’t tall enough to go on the swings, so you stayed with your Aunt and yelled at me with your raspy little voice every time I passed over your head, “Hi, Mom! Don’t throw up!”
“I’m OK. I’m OK. I’m OK.”
“Hi, Mom! Don’t throw up!”
“I’m OK. I’m OK. I’m OK.”
“Hi, Mom! Don’t throw up!”
I wanted so badly to love every minute of it. But, the reality was I couldn’t wait for it to fucking end.
Which is a perfect metaphor for our summer.
You guys, I wanted so badly to love every minute of it.
But the reality was…I couldn’t wait for it to fucking end.
I want to be good at summer. And I am. In June. And June does too count as a month because you finished school on June 3rd, Waldorf, and the rest of you finished on June 6th. And it was a half fucking day. So, come on. June was a full month of vacation in this house. And I was like funfetti for a change. I was yes to everything. Warm donuts for breakfast, water ice for lunch, cousins non stop, afternoons spent on the beach, buffalo wings for dinner, bedtimes be damned. So much yes. All of it yes.
I care. That we don’t fill your summer so completely that you head into a new school year under a cloud of exhaustion. So ours are unstructured summers. They are a throwback to a simpler time. It’s decompression at its finest. It allows you the time to recharge your batteries and be ready to do this school thing all over again come September. It is my gift to you, boys. It allows you the opportunity to be brothers. I need you to have time to be brothers. I need it for you. To cultivate that bond. To build that house on a strong foundation. And I need it for me. To watch you pair off and to listen to your conversations when you don’t realize I’m in the next room. Yelling at one brother, then defending him in the next breath. Laughing so uncontrollably that I sidestep the creakiest stairs so I can tiptoe up to your room to bear quiet witness to so much happiness.
It was a hard summer for me, you guys. Throwback summers feel like a fantastic idea during the mayhem that is May, but by mid-July the reality hits me like a gigantic WTF. There are weeks at a time that my gift to you feels like a punishment for me. Just like on that ride, I couldn’t find my footing at all this summer. I expect you guys to go through a million periods of WTF. So much of what lies ahead of you will be a struggle to find your footing. When it happens to me…and I feel like I should have a fairly good handle on this parenting thing by now…it freaks me out.
Ah, but my Facebook page was full of excitement, wasn’t it? We were making memories. Like a boss. We were making memories so hard I was hash-tagging it. #makingmemories
If my pictures could speak, here’s what they’d say…
“No, we’re not going to keep the beads out all summer long. Because Mommy hates crafts, that’s why.”
“Waldorf, stop touching your brother and get out of the picture. GET OUT OF THE PICTURE! You’re ruining it, and you’re ruining my day. You better not ruin this entire fucking summer or so help me Jesus I will ship you away next summer.”
“Holy Moses. The only thing missing is a pair of Mickey Mouse ears. What’s that? I said the boys are so lucky they have a Dad who documents their memories like this!”
” I should be running instead of eating these. Oh well.We got cheese, right? I’m not eating these unless they’re smothered in cheese.”
“Why would you ever choose a snow cone? They are the dumbest desserts ever. Flavorless. Now, smile, and pretend you made a good choice. Pretend you’re eating a chipwich.”
“For the last time, STOP STRANGLING YOUR BROTHER! Jesus CHRIST! Now smile so I can send a picture to Dad to show him how nicely you’re playing.”
“What the hell were you doing climbing on my car? Hang on. Just hold it up there while I take a picture. My GOD, your feet are dirty. Jesus fucking Christ with you boys. Disgusting creatures.”
“Just so we’re clear, I will beat your ass if you try to run your brother over with that lawnmower. You hear me, right?”
“For the love of god, stop telling everyone you just puked! We cleaned it up without anybody noticing, can’t it be our little secret?”
“Oh, mother fucker. Well, 80% of them are having fun.”
“If you spin your brother too fast on that ride, I will beat you! BEAT YOU! Aw, look how sweet you two are.”
“Let’s play a game. Here are the rules. I’m going to close my eyes. And you’re going to move your body away from me and stop asking me for snacks. 1-2-3-Go!”
“This Neil Diamond cover band would be so much more enjoyable if we had left these asshole kids at home. I fucking hate them right now. Hand me a beer, will you? Let’s take a selfie and pretend we’re having fun.”
“Do you want to wait in this line for ice cream or do you want me to drag you home and put you to bed right now? Stop being so annoying. Mommy loves you.”
“I guess you didn’t hear Mommy telling you not to run at the pool. This is what happens when you don’t listen to Mommy. Be careful where you put your penis. Trust me on that one too.”
“Come on, Ma, get in! What is that smell? It smells just like earthworms after a rainstorm. Gross! Shit, where are the kids? Can you take this snake off of us so we can find our kids? Hurry before the let the ferret out!”
“Can you boys stop acting like jackasses for one minute? Just ONE MINUTE??? JESUS! Now look at the camera and smile if you want electronics ever again.”
“Hey, Verb, if you don’t listen to me, I’m going to dig a hole, put you in it, and bury you. Then I’m going to leave you there. How does that sound? Now look at me and smile for this picture.”
“Goddammit, Waldorf, do you have any sense of urgency in any part of your existence? There is an entire beach full of people waiting behind us! Fucking move! So help me, if you don’t smile, I will save every penny I have to send you to sleep away camp all summer next year. Hey, there it is! The Stanley Cup! We’re making memories this summer, guys, aren’t we?!”
“Hey, guys, could you at least try to muster a little enthusiasm? Woohoo! New school stadium! Can you play the part please? No? Thanks for nothing. Assholes.”
“Wait, why would you put them in the fountain? Why not behind the fountain? You thought it would look cooler? Let me ask you something…how many people do you think took a piss in that fountain? And now our kids are standing in how many people’s piss? The city of brotherly love. Our kids are standing in a fountain. Of piss.”
“Lie down. Right here. Because I asked you to lie down. I want to take a picture of you boys lying down. No, don’t stand over there. Because it’s stupid. I want you to lie down. Why do you have to make this difficult? Fine. I’ll take the picture, but it’s going to look fucking stupid with you standing off to the side. Annoying child. Swine.”
“Stop stop stop stop. STOP. Stop throwing blueberries. Now. Stop. STOP. IT. STOP THROWING BLUEBERRIES AND LOOK AT ME. LOOK AT ME AND STOP. STOP THROWING BLUEBERRIES. LOOK AT ME. Look at me. Stop. Yes. NO. Stop. Look at me. Stop. Mother fuck it all. I fucking hate July.”
If my pictures could speak, I’d be in a heap of trouble, boys.
I’m a person. Just one person. A human being who screws up like every other human being.
And I feel like I screwed up this summer. And I’m sorry. My balance was completely off. I know I can do better.
There’s so much life in this house. There’s evidence in every corner of it. The shoes, the Legos, the home improvement projects, the artwork, the photography equipment, the books, the bodies, the voices. Ours is a full life. It’s a chaotic one. And as I sit and write in a house that’s still full but finally quiet, I am reminded it’s a finite one as well. There’s a beginning and an end. And you are not mine. You’re here on loan for a short period. Granted, it feels especially long every June, July, and August. But I’m reminded every time I see a Mom with a baby how very quickly the years go by. When I have to reach up to hug you, Waldorf. When you smile wide enough that your braces show, Kenyan. Every time you mutter, “whatever,” Interrogator. And the fact that I no longer have to wear you like an accessory, Verb.
You’re on loan to me for a short time.
Next summer, if you still want me to, I will kick off my flip flops and run after you. With the sun on my face, the sweat trailing down my back, and the music in my ears, I will buckle myself into a swing…the one next to the swing that goes the highest. I will smile when I realize, again, that my bare feet don’t touch the ground.
And with some luck, I won’t have to remind myself that I’m OK.
Maybe one of you will reach out and hold my hand. And that will make all the difference.
I think I’d like that.
I know I can do better next summer.
P.S. I’m serious. Always be careful where you put your penis.