From Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul

Real Summers

My kids have been out of school a total of two days, but already it’s obvious—this summer will be the season they officially drive me crazy.

I don’t know why it’s so hard for them to comprehend the simple, sorry truth: just because they’re off doesn’t mean I am. Of course, I escape to the sanctity of my office cubicle each morning, which just means they know exactly where to find me.

“Hey, Mom, can you give me a ride to the bait shop?” Sean will ask. This is his eighteenth call of the day, and my morning coffee hasn’t even cooled yet.

“I’m at work, son,” I’ll remind him. (When he dialed the phone, did he think he was calling our laundry room?)

“But you’re coming home for lunch, right? What were you planning to do on your lunch?”

“Er, eat lunch?” Apparently the obvious answers elude this child. Or maybe I’m no longer spending time creatively.

I understand his excitement; no, really, I do, even if it doesn’t seem that way to the boy on the other end of the phone. After all, I used to have “real summers,” too, summers that spread out before me, one carefree day after another, when my greatest concerns included practicing “walking the doggie” with my blue Duncan Imperial or saving enough money to buy a cone when Mr. Softie rounded Red Bank and came down Frances. Alarm clocks were forgotten—stored away even—and teachers and homework were things of the past. For ninety-something days, I had to answer to only two bosses: the streetlight (since I had to be home before it was lit) or my mother’s voice calling me home for dinner.

But ninety-something days aren’t many, not really. So I can understand the urgency of getting to the bait shop on this, the second day of summer. After all, despite countless Beach Boys songs to the contrary, summers do end.

And in time, “real summers” end as well. Oh, sure, we still get the months of July and August, and those of us who are really lucky may even get a vacation, a week or two to abandon the production line or let the particulars pile up on the desk as we attempt to rest and recharge. That’s a good thing—a very good thing—but it doesn’t qualify as a “real summer.”

“Real summer” can be understood only by kids, who know that the real start of the season isn’t a date on the calendar. It’s the ring of the dismissal bell on the last day of school. They fly out of the building, backpacks full of a year’s worth of doodling, friends’ phone numbers, and that summer reading list (which won’t be glanced at until sometime late in August).

The chant may be “no more teachers, no more books” but the truth is “no more long pants, no more alarm clocks.” Until that bell sounds again in September, my kids will fill their days catching fireflies and frogs, casting lures into the creek, collecting freckles in the sunshine, and sleeping well into morning after a long game of jailbreak the night before.

I heard my son sigh his impatience from the other end of the phone, and suddenly I understood his annoyance. The truth: I was jealous.

I miss “real summers.” Summers with alarm clocks are sort of like Christmas after your big brother spills the beans about Santa. Sure, the sun still shines, the sprinklers still flow, and Mr. Softie still rounds the corner. But it’s not the same.

Remembering my own days of Popsicles and swim club, I agreed to spend my lunchtime picking up crickets and a container of worms. And, yes, the calls and distractions do drive me crazy, but I know that my boys are answering to their own summer bosses—the lure of a creek filled with catfish, the flitting dance of lightening bugs chased through freshly mowed grass, the summer refrain of childhood as it turns from sunlight to shadow one last time.

Knowing I’ll never hear that song again drives me craziest of all.

Mary Dixon Lebeau

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