"Can you believe how this summer's just flown by?" my mother asked during a recent phone call.
"It's funny," I said, "but it's actually felt like the longest summer of my life."
With three kids under the age of 16, I've spent the better part of these past three months driving kids to and from their destinations, unloading carloads of groceries, beach towels, random drive-thru cups, wrappers, flip flops, magazines and small piles of coins and currency left over from the twenty-dollar bills I handed out more often than I care to admit.
As I explained to Mom, "I think I'm just looking forward to sending kids back to school..." I'm exhausted from all the clean up, the questions ("What are we doing today, Mom?" "Can I get a ride to the beach and, on our way, do you mind if we stop to pick up Jonnie?") and the chaos that is summertime in our house.
And yet, I find myself crying when I think of that day -- 10 days from now -- when they're all back in school. It's been the best summer I can remember, and I never want it to end. Am I the ONLY mom sad about school starting?
My kids are 15, 13 and 10. Two teens and a 'tween. The oldest is learning to drive. The youngest has discovered cooking. And the middle one (the only girl, God bless her) has somehow, by her own accord, thrived in middle school. All three of them have learned to go beyond just tolerating each other -- they actually get along. Not always, but more than 50% of the time, which is 49% more than last year.
I've spent the summer carving out individual time with each one of my kids: breakfast at a greasy spoon here; a quick trip to Target there; a dog walk now and then; errands in the car; a go-kart adventure. It's been a conscious effort but I've tried my best to stop answering emails or straightening the mess when I'm with them...because really being WITH them is what it's all about. Of course I love them, but this summer, I've discovered just how much I genuinely like my kids as human beings.
This summer, we've spent more time talking. More time laughing. More time sharing our hearts.
Believe me, this summer was hard won. We've survived the summers with portable cribs, missing pacifiers, ear infections and sleepless nights. Summers when our days revolved around naps and when a drive to Blockbuster felt like a Get-Out-Of-Jail card. Summers of boredom, summers of worry, summers of constant fighting and summers that dragged on forever. This year, summer just felt right and I knew it; it's been a summer I'll cherish forever.
Two years ago, my husband and our older son sailed across Lake Michigan to Mackinac Island for the first time, and preparation for their journey was intense. Still, despite all their certifications, safety drills, the well-provisioned galley and plenty of advice from experienced racers, their path was fraught with unforeseen storms. As I waited on the island for them to make landfall -- fearing they'd been washed overboard just as two fellow racers had -- all I could think about was that race...and those feelings...and that immediate feeling of helplessness.
Life, it turns out, is filled with cycles -- some of which are hard to recognize until you've survived a full one.
Recently, while walking behind my oldest son, I watched as a toddler looked up at him as he passed her on the sidewalk. She raised her chubby little hand to shade her eyes as she made eye contact with him and, to my amazement, he slowed down and watched her with the most delighted smile on his face. As she stood frozen, staring up at him, he raised his hand and gently wiggled a friendly "hello" with his fingers.
Earlier in the summer, I opened the mailbox to find a letter from my daughter. She'd sent it from camp. It was addressed to her younger brother, telling him about all the things she knew he'd like there.
And one special night, as I danced with my youngest son in my arms, I felt like I was floating in a sea of calm, love, and joy.
He wasn't embarrassed dancing with his mom, and I knew how lucky I was. I told myself never to forget the feeling of being needed, being someone's safety, being someone's comfort. It was a dance to cap off this year's Race to Mackinac, one of the slowest in the event's 105-year history. What I couldn't imagine during the storms two summers ago was this summer's calm...so calm, in fact, that Lake Michigan's eerily flat surface displayed perfectly mirrored reflections of the cloudless sky.
What did this summer teach me? That living through hardships helps us embrace happiness completely; anything else is really just a good time.
What are the cycles you've gone through? When did you think you'd never pull through, only to look back and marvel at how you made it?