It seems like yesterday I was laying by the inground swimming pool with my older sister, slathering myself with Coppertone 6 (or nothing at all), spraying Sun In in my hair, her paging through some college textbook, me reading The Outsiders for the third time. The slow chug of a sprinkler and the buzz of a distant lawnmower hummed just below Billy Joel crooning the Piano Man from our boom box.
Summer was an infinite expanse of days then. I'd sneak some of her Bain de Soleil "tanning lotion" and try on her leopard print one piece, the one with the zipper up the front, and I wished to be prettier, more popular, older. Summer was forever, one infinitely long hot day, basking in the timelessness, but always longing for a distant future. Longing.
And August was the punctuation point at the end of the run on sentence. Trapper Keepers and Josie and the Pussycat pencil cases for my return to middle school and a new futon or mini-fridge to be loaded into the Volkswagon bus and driven away to college for her. Would this be the year the mean boys in gym would finally notice me with my St. Tropez tan and glistening (greenish) highlights?
Somehow, thirty-some years and four children later summer became almost the exact photo negative of those impossibly lazy days. In the second week of June, the first year my kids were old enough to be out of preschool for the summer, I remember leaning on the jumbo cart at the grocery store (the one with the racing car for the twins, the baby seat for the infant, and the bar at the end for my five-year-old to hang onto.)
"Oh. My. Lord. This is summer?" I gasped.
Because it wasn't. It was breakfast then getting dressed and educational activities in the morning like play-dough or finger painting and a snack and then maybe a game of Candy Land then a lunch, then the playground or the beach then no one wants to nap so we'll run an errand but someone fell asleep in their car seat so maybe the rest of you can go play on the playground and we'll stick her here on a blanket, stop hitting your brother, did you just poop on the slide? Oh, wait, what's for snack? Or is it dinner? And it's absolutely bath night. Then time to read, what do you mean you're not tired? Repeat, repeat, repeat. Which was made so much worse by the addition of suntan lotion (SPF 50), swim diapers, and gritty sand.
In June summer was too much, the enemy, a jolt to the system.
Until August, sweet August, when we finally became acclimated to the schedule, finally found our groove. The weather wasn't as foggy or stormy (metaphorically and literally) and we were soaking in the sun, splashing in tide pools, cuddling exhausted before naps we'd finally grown used to. Sleeping in.
And then, the sudden realization, my oldest was beginning kindergarten! How had he grown so fast? Each drive to the beach through grassy marshes was a sepia-tinted memory as it was happening. Each feral dinner of hotdogs and s'mores around a firepit, pieces of fruit gobbled at the water's edge in chubby, sand-caked fingers was precious.
And now, now they're diving off docks, swimming out into the deep water, paddling alone in kayaks to the edge of the cove. They pick up crabs with their hands, play wiffle ball or Monopoly.
It is August and so they are all headed back to school soon again.
My children play with their nieces' cast-off toys, jumbo frisbees and boomerangs. My older sister and I sit silently in our chairs watching my kids playing reckless games. She wears an unbelievably sexy, plunging swimsuit (where does she find these?), and I sit with my hat and zinc oxide sunscreen, inexplicably still wearing a skirted two piece like we're kids again. And then, my sister's girls walk over, long-legged and lean, college t-shirts thrown over bikinis.
In a Harry Chapin moment that takes my breath away the oldest asks to borrow the car keys. ("And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon, little boy blue and the man on the moon.") For just a moment, I can feel it. Time stands still.
It flashes through my mind then, a montage, this flipbook of summers past to present to future. So slow as they slide beneath my thumb. Flip. Flip. Flip. That swimming pool, Billy Joel, Bain del Soleil. And then suddenly, flip, flip, flipflipflip. They are wearing their college t-shirts. They are driving away.
We ate outside at the picnic table that night, had s'mores by the fire. I sang my kids to sleep (Piano Man, Angel from Montgomery, Old Cape Cod, Thunder Road) and then we played cards with her daughters until an August thunderstorm knocked out the power and we each stumbled to our berths laughing, stopped from milking more time out of these days only by the complete darkness we'd all suddenly been thrown into.
August is exhaustingly long days that never end and weeks that fly by with some otherworldly force. It is the time we mark their changes, from diapered slapping in tide pools, to first time out in the kid kayak. And finally, to car keys. It is squeezing every moment out of each day and eagerly looking towards the next year, and the next, the next, nextnextnext.
It is sitting beside a sister, or mom, or friend, sharing in this constant move forward of time, moving flip flops and buckets ever farther up the beach trying to keep the rising tide at bay.
August is a marker, a longing, hope. It is the end of summer. And so, we hold tight, close our eyes, soak it in.
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