Summer snuck up on me.
Maybe because last year in Massachusetts – after a winter of blizzard like conditions – the kids got out of school about 15 minutes before the 4th of July parade came rolling down the street.
But we ended this academic year in a Catholic school outside of Philly, and on June 2, it was all over. “That’s a wrap!”
Transitions are not my thing. This is because I tend to be
rigid a creature of habit. I enjoy spontaneity but only if it’s a little bit planned. Spontaneity for the whimsically challenged.
Unfortunately, summer requires us to change our plans, to adapt them, to adjust to a different schedule. This makes me incredibly anxious. So I self-soothe by binge-planning; stuffing the calendar with random activities to overcompensate for my lack of an actual plan.
You know when you are at a wedding and the DJ blends one song into another, with no pause in between?
You are out on the dance floor. You’ve just had half a vodka tonic and about 1.5 minutes into Billie Jean you start to feel like you are finding your groove, like your arms and legs actually CAN move simultaneously in a non-seizure like fashion. You have found the rhythm. Then, suddenly, Billie Jean morphs into Thriller. Your little hip shimmy-jazz hands routine no longer fits the song. You stand there, frozen. You have lost the rhythm. You completely blank on the Thriller zombie dance. Where’s my vodka tonic?
My transition from school to summer was kind of like that.
Our first day of summer vacation was a disaster. I started with the best of intentions, aka, a binge planning session. I planned trip to a playground with a giant xylophone and self-cooling misty sprinklers built into the monkey bars. I brought snacks, sunscreen, bug spray. This lasted an hour at best.
“We’re hungry, we’re bored, we’re hot!”
On the car ride home I told them about my childhood summers of being dropped off at a dusty field where I was forced to play dodge ball for eight hours. This fell on deaf ears
because this parental strategy has failed for hundreds of years.
Craft projects made them frustrated. Outdoor games made them hot. “She’s touching me without touching me! She’s making a vampire face! MOOMMMMMM!!!!”
After I caught Phoebe in the bathroom drawing a mural on her butt with a green Sharpie marker, I put on Peppa Pig, tapped my box of wine, and gave myself a time-out on the front porch.
It dawned on my that the kids were also struggling to find their rhythm; that they too were trying to find away to seamlessly transition from Billie Jean to Thriller.
Rhythm (rith-uhm) n.
1. Movement or variation characterized by the regular recurrence or alteration of different quantities or conditions.
Movement…alteration….different conditions. All words that suggest ease and comfort with transition; an awareness to the ever-changing cadence of life, a tuning-in to the substrative hum of nature. In the words of the German eurodance dance group Snap!:
Rhythm is a dancer; it’s a soul companion
You can feel it everywhere
Lift your hands and voices, free your mind and join us
You can feel it everywhere.
If Rhythm is a Dancer, then I am Elaine Benes.
Sitting on the porch with my glass of Pinot Grigio, I listened to the sounds of summer: the whizz of kids flying by on bikes, the buzz of a fly circling my head, the swish of the leaves in an unexpected breeze. Summer is the music. But as a mother, I am the conductor. It is my job to ease my kids into summer, to help them move from one song into another.
These things are easy to remember when I am sitting alone on the porch with a glass of wine. But I needed a mantra to ground me when someone Sharpies her butt. And what words could be more poetic than those of hip-hop duo Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock:
Cause I’m cool, calm just like a breeze.
I repeated these words to myself on Sunday as we drove home from a Father’s Day celebration at a beer garden in Philly.
We had a great time, but I could feel myself getting sleepy…lazy. Phil said, “Let’s take the scenic route.”
I could feel my mind start to do it’s thing: We have no food. We still need to get Emma a tennis racquet for camp. Do the girls have clean underwear? I started scrolling through my phone calendar, obsessing about dates in the distant future that had no relevance to the present moment. I could feel the thrashing suffocation in my body, like an elephant trying to take off a sweater. Then, I remembered:
Cause I’m cool, calm just like a breeze.
I looked up from my frantic phone-finger gymnastics and gazed out the window. We were driving down a narrow road perpendicular to the Schuykill River. People sat in lawn chairs around fire pits and barbecues, talking and laughing while kids played tag. One man strummed a guitar. Hanging from the trees were the biggest wind chimes I have ever seen.
“Where are we? Are we still in Philadelphia?”
Phil smiled. “Yup. Like I said, this is the scenic route.”
“MOM!” That lady is on a HORSE!”
As we stopped to take this kind urban equestrian’s photo, I decided to leave the laundry and meal planning for…whenever.
To find my summer rhythm, I need to let go of the metronome; the steady tic-toc that sets the pace for the school year. Summer is not the time for things to run like clockwork. Sure, we all need some structure to our day, especially kids. But summer is the time for taking the long way home, for reading novels, for eating waffles and ice cream for dinner and playing board games on the front porch.
Summer is about lemonade stands and lightening bugs and running through sprinklers.
This weekend marks the summer solstice, which means “sun standing still.” I love this. Because in between the inevitable bouts of whining and fighting, I catch glimpses of my two little suns standing still – relaxed and present, moving to their own rhythm, basking in their own light.