Family Time

I’m holding on to summer for just a few more days, notwithstanding the compelling evidence that it’s going, going, gone – the college bound bags, packed and tripping distance from the front door, the carton of fresh, bright highlighters and newly-sharpened pencils, the neat stack of textbooks on the dining room table. We are rested and inspired and pretty much ready to embark on the next adventure. And by “we” I mean, not me.

Our oldest son starts law school today, which constitutes clear and convincing evidence that I have been derelict in my maternal duties to talk him out of it. Thing #2 starts his senior year in college today, which seems to indicate that I may have blinked, but that he definitely hasn’t. The so-called little one starts his junior year of high school today, which must be an administrative glitch, because just about three yesterdays ago, he was not much bigger than an overstuffed burrito. I have already snapped (but not posted, as requested) the obligatory first day of school picture. and I’m trying not to think about the fact that he’s the last man standing on our porch now that all his brothers are off to college and beyond. It doesn’t seem possible that next year will be his last first-day-of-school-photograph-by-the-front-door, even though he’s well over six feet tall, because, like a recalcitrant toddler, today he is carrying his shoes in his hands instead of wearing them on his feet. It appears that my son, like me, steps reluctantly into the school year and scheduled life.

We’ve had a full summer, capped by two weeks of travel together with all four of our sons, an extraordinary achievement of organizational prowess and sheer blind luck. In a way, our trip already feels as ephemeral as a pleasant dream; we’ve tossed the luggage tags and boarding passes, posted a few photos and plunged headlong into the next phase, the boys speeding off in four different directions. On the other hand, the sturdiness of our shared experience will hold us for a long time. We thoroughly enjoyed our family togetherness, the planes, trains and even one trifling car-related mishap hardly worth mentioning but that dad will likely hear about for the rest of his days. We explored castles and cathedrals and quiet chapels, toured old cities and initiated a new friendship, spent long evenings featuring Bananagrams and brothers, all punctuated with laughter, local ales and champagne.

I feel the need to point out that we started out as a blended family, but now we are simply a family. The fact that two of our boys have the same exact name occasionally creates some confusion, which my husband and I feel the need to explain. The kids chalk it up to maternal brain damage and keep moving.

If you were counting sons, you might have noticed that I neglected to mention Thing #3. He is flying under the radar, hoping that I haven’t remembered that he finished his summer internship but has another week before heading across the country to his freshman orientation. The truth is that it is not getting any easier to let these kids take that step into college to create their own lives, even though it’s everything he has worked for (and we have encouraged). I’m bracing myself for my mommy meltdown. It has happened twice before already, so I know it’s coming. It might happen when I check the weather in the Midwest, or visit the Patagonia website, scrolling through various styles of sweaters and jackets, wondering which one best keeps the boy warm and dry. It could happen when he tells me about his roommate assignment. Or when I book the one-way plane ticket from Los Angeles to Minneapolis. It might be when I pay the fall term tuition. My husband and I are doling out last minute lectures and advice faster than the boy himself can drive to In ‘n Out for just one more double-double before leaving California. In any case, I have already warned the so-called baby that I am going to cling to his ankles like nobody’s business.

But what if I’m not meltdown-bound? Maybe I’m actually ready this time around? Third time’s a charm? It is entirely possible that I am exemplary at sticking my head in the sand, or that I’m feeling confident because the boy is still in bed at noon, in a bed under my own roof with my own dog at his feet, and not far away in a dorm room with a roommate I cannot threaten or bribe into kindness. It is altogether likely that upon the actual college drop-off, my husband and I will – for the third time running – retreat quickly to the nearest chapel, followed by a lengthy visit to the closest bar.

I guess I won’t know until it happens, so I will just trust that he and I are both ready for the approaching season. All I can do is enjoy where I am.

I take advantage of summer’s light, and I take a leisurely afternoon stroll with the dog, followed by a glass of sauvignon blanc on the porch. I have a book nearby, which I think about reading but don’t actually open. Instead, the dog and I simply watch the sunlight shifting on the mountains, thinking our butterfly thoughts, until it starts to feel too chilly outside, at which point our thoughts turn toward dinner, and we head inside for warmth and rest.

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Wishing you light and strength on summer’s path. And gentle transitions.

 

Summer Rhythm

Summer is my least favorite season. I wilt in the heat and sunburn in about 17 minutes. While I love the feel of sand on my bare feet, I hate it everywhere else, especially in my eyes and the kids’ sandwiches and all over the dog. These are the days I wonder whether Los Angeles is really an ideal place for me to live.

To be terribly honest, I don’t do especially well with extended stretches of unstructured time. I have a fantasy that this summer will be gentle and easy, with time to read leisurely, take the kids to a bunch of movies, and spend relaxing hours on the beach. I envision playing board games or putting together a puzzle, or finally finishing that scrapbook. Maybe now I will have the time and energy to sort through old files and clear out the garage. I do not daydream about nagging my kids to do their summer reading, and I’m sure they exclude that particular element from their summer reveries as well, but it is regrettably present in our reality. Probably transitioning back to work wasn’t my best planning maneuver for a carefree June, July and August. The kids are all over the map, and their so-called schedules have hijacked the long, uninterrupted hours I had intended to use for, well, whatever. It doesn’t matter. I need a break from this summer vacation.

My experience of summer is a little like jazz music. Or maybe funk. I like jazz, but I’m not exactly an aficionado. My inner perfectionist control freak struggles; it is hard for that girl to settle into the unpredictable rhythms and find the groove. The pauses come in unexpected places, and it makes me uncomfortable. The beats bump along, a bit restless without a clear direction, featuring a little swing, some improvisation, a surprising joyous moment, and then, just about the time I’m feeling synchronized, it abruptly ends. The trick is to surrender to the moment, to relax into the unfamiliar. Not my forte.

The boys’ class schedules and book lists arrive, and I am a little excited, anticipating a new school year. I am also dismayed that my plans to accomplish something summerish haven’t quite come to fruition. Plus I have so much more nothing to do. Now my window of opportunity is closing, and I experience simultaneously a desire to speed up the clock and an impulse to whack the snooze button. I’m not sure whether I need Ativan or Adderall.

I want a cosmic pause. Isn’t that what summer is supposed to be?

My interlude comes in the form of an evening at the Hollywood Bowl. It is my absolute favorite summer activity and a compelling reason to live in Los Angeles. When I was a kid, my parents brought my sister and me to a night at the Hollywood Bowl almost every summer, complete with our picnic dinner and plaid blanket. We brought hot tea and dessert for intermission. Back then, our “seats” were on the grassy knoll at the very top of the amphitheater. Now there are actual benches in that area, and instead of sitting on the picnic blanket, I wrap it around my shoulders as the evening cools. I’ve had seats all over the Bowl; there are no bad seats in that place. I love it all, and I don’t even care who’s playing – classical, jazz, opera, rock, big band, and anything with fireworks, of course. Music, friends, a bottle of wine, the moon, a breeze and a marine layer rolling in. It’s what I love most about summertime.

Only once in 40 years have I been disappointed at the Hollywood Bowl. The program was Totally 80’s. I don’t know what politics must have been involved, but scheduling any band after the B-52’s demonstrates unfortunate planning. The energy level can only go down after Rock Lobster. I’m just saying.

But here’s one more reason I love the Bowl: it‘s Tim’s and my thing. Neither his first wife nor my first husband was all that enthusiastic about attending. But we love it. As we journey along the bumpy road that is our life together, we travel some familiar territory, and we explore new places together. We even subscribed to a jazz series this summer, and I like it more than I had thought. What I’ve come to appreciate about jazz is its openness to possibility. To something new and wonderful. A willingness to try something different. To see where it flows. I didn’t think I could do it, mostly because I didn’t want to. But here I am, improvising, falling into a different cadence, finding a harmony I could not have otherwise known.

UPS arrives at my doorstep to deliver the boys’ school books. I’m mildly relieved that summer’s end is approaching, but I am going to ignore those boxes for just a day or two more. Somehow I can relax, knowing that the familiar structure and productivity are just up ahead.

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Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And a musical evening, preferably outdoors.