There was a wonderful Staples TV commercial that ran during back-to-school shopping season. It featured a parent pushing a shopping cart through a store, gleefully whooshing down aisles as disappointed-looking children lagged behind.
The commercial was set to the song “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of The Year.”
It was a sweetly funny play on the enthusiasm that some parents feel at the prospect of getting the children back to school after a long summer at home.
I still love the commercial, even though I do not share the sentiment. The end of summer now finds me a bit melancholy. I am sentimental about the months that have gone by and the milestones that another school year represents. I wish, quite simply, that this summer were not ending.
I admittedly come at this from the perspective of a parent who is not home all day with a house full of children. My kids have attended camp and/or day care on a full-time basis all summer, because my husband and I have attended work on a full-time basis all summer. In many ways, our routine, as measured in hours we all spend away from the house, does not meaningfully change when the school year ends. We continue to scramble out in the morning and shuffle home in the early evening.
Nevertheless, there’s time to relax in summer. We do not have to wake up worrying about whether there will be snow to shovel. We do not have to leave time to find mittens or finish homework. We do not have to serve breakfast in time to greet the bus.
When we return home there is still daylight, and it stays light out until well after dinner. We can play outside, walk down to the beach, even go for a drive in the only air-conditioning we have access to – the system in our car. If bedtime gets delayed, it’s no big deal. We can wake up a bit more slowly the next morning.
With the beginning of summer also comes the promise of visits from out-of-state friends and family. They’ve all figured out the secret: Maine is terrific in its warmer months. Weddings, lobster bakes, golf tournaments, road races, and a general escape from the heat and humidity everywhere else are enough to give definition to a trip here. Summer is now the season in which I see the most of my sisters and their families, and it’s always hard to wave goodbye to that time together.
Summer gives all of us parents another context to measure the changes in our children. It’s the summer they learned to ride a two-wheeler, or grew an inch, or passed their deep-end test. There’s the bathing suit they ripped when they jumped off the dock, and the scar they got when they burned their finger roasting a marshmallow.
This summer, my daughter spent her first weeks at overnight camp. It was something we had anticipated for months. To think that it is now in our rear-view mirror seems impossible, but the calendar insists that it’s true. I’m now the mother of someone who learned how to row a boat, balance on water skis, and shoot an arrow – all without me seeing her do it, much less helping her learn how.
At this stage of their lives, nothing marks their growing up more than the inauguration of a new school year. Their age is a number; their grade is an illumination. I have a rising third-grader, amazing herself at the thought she’ll learn how to multiply and will be on the big kids’ floor of her school. I have a son who will be in his last year of preschool, amazing himself at the thought he’s almost done practicing for kindergarten.
They are ready to get going, but they aren’t ready for summer to end. I’m ready to pack backpacks and lunches, but I’m not ready to let them go.
There are still beaches left to lie on, Band-Aids to apply, family dinners to laugh through, fire pits to talk around.
Thank you, summer. I wish you didn’t have to go.