Ice Cream for Dinner

June 14, 2012

The calendar passed into June when I wasn’t looking, so now I’m busy wrapping teachers’ gifts and ironing labels onto the waistbands of camp shorts at warp speed. Though there are still finals to take and essays to write, summer is about to be crowned king. You can practically wrap your hands around the excitement pulsing through the house.

What I love most about summer is what goes missing. Evening extracurricular activities come to a halt. I can stow my nagging voice that asks if homework is finished, tests have been studied for, permission slips signed. For two whole months, I can just be that cool mom who shouts “Nice shot!” from the kitchen window.

On the other hand, what I dread most about summer is what goes missing. Clearly defined bedtimes become a thing of the past. Schedules, those backbones of structure, suddenly bend and flex. In their absence, the fine line between chaos and order ends up with sunscreen in its eyes.

Still, I know how therapeutic it can be to let a little air out of our extensively programmed bubble, despite the potential to throw our lives into disarray. As the stress of school recedes into memory, the house becomes more disorganized, yet more peaceful. The boys are better rested, too, now that they can slough off sleep naturally, not on the mad dash to the school bus stop.

Like sunflowers, they grow taller as July chases August. Their muscles become more defined, their shoulders broader, from hours in the pool and on the basketball court. They glow, their skin bronzed with youthful exuberance. To my amazement, they also mature, because there is opportunity to dream dreams and imagine the impossible, activities for which exams and practices leave no time.

The older they get, the faster the school years seem to fly. Suddenly, my first grader is finishing his freshman year of high school. My toddler is entering middle school and his baby brother is right behind him. Kiddie pools are history, though water balloons have not been entirely eclipsed by teenage ennui. 

For now, my boys are still Boys of Summer. As each new school grade chips away at their youth, the summer hiatus helps them to cling to it a little longer. These hot months compose a sweet, sticky moment that slows down time long enough for them to enjoy the magic and wonder of their days.

I remember the exact instant when that feeling first escaped me, when that last bit of my youthful spirit fled in the night. I initially embraced its absence, naively thinking it a sign of my arrival at independence and adulthood. 

Then I woke up one Monday morning at the end of June and realized that nothing had changed while I was sleeping. It was not the first day of a two-month break. Work just picked up where I’d left it the previous Friday. Summer had come, but it no longer intended to transform my day-to-day existence.

Gone were those carefree hours catching fireflies, running barefoot through the sprinkler as the blades of grass tickled the balls of my feet. Responsibility had replaced insouciance, clouding that part of me that secretly longed to chase down the ice cream truck and build a sandcastle. Out of necessity, I soon learned to forget all of the promise that summer once held.

These days I spend a lot of my time thinking about the future, about how my children will do in school and how they will fare in the world. So I struggle to let the summer pass unscathed by my worries. I allow the boys to play basketball until the sun goes down and to stay up late watching movies. I ignore the muddy footprints left behind as the screen door slams again and pay no heed to banisters sticky from melting ice pops.

Unbeknownst to them, the boys exude an aura of freedom, and for me, it is summer’s greatest gift. This time, I intend for their shouts of joy to jar my memory of the magic that can still be a part of my adult, mature, responsible life. Rather than mourn those feelings of wonder that long ago escaped me, I hope to recapture them, like fireflies in a jar at dusk.

I will poke holes in the lid to keep them alive, setting the jar on the counter as I offer the boys ice cream for dinner. And then I will join them.