I drove up to Milford, NH, yesterday to get a last taste of summer with my daughter. And her friend, (Because offering to let her bring a friend just makes everything easier. And she’s got really cool friends.)

The balloons were beautiful. The food was great. There were henna tattoos, bouncy houses, beer tents, tethered rides into colorful baskets, lines as long as the dmv at lunchtime, but much friendlier, handmade jewelry, live music, a summertime sunset, and a sense of summertime bliss.
No work in the morning. No bedtime. Fried oreos.

Here’s the thing.

Summertime is going to be over. in late September, I think. Last night is a million hours ago, and Friday at 4, when the weekend began, is a century away.

Kids will attend their first day of school, be sent away to their first sleep away camp, leave for college, if we are lucky.

One day, I realized I hadn’t pushed them on the swing in three years.

One day, you’ll realize their room doesn’t smell like their room.

The seasons don’t matter. The first day, the last day, they are milestones for facebook and family and reminders that time is passing, even if your sixteen year old has only eaten macaroni and cheese since he was three.

Not everyone has children.
There is still the first grey hair, the first ma’am or sir, the serious conversation about final plans. Menopause. Midlife. Mortality.

The weather is just a backdrop.

Don’t only live summer between June and August.

Fresh starts don’t only happen in September. Or a new beginning in spring.

All that matters is the people we choose, the people that choose us, and how we choose to spend the time that we have.
FYI, , if your kid asks for a push on the swing, give them a push. Take your time.

If you have to choose between Game of Thrones, and a conversation with your best friend, have the talk. Most shows are available on demand or can be found at at the local library. Even if you are feeling pressure from your well meaning, obsessed co-workers to watch a show, insist on meaningful dialogue. As a matter a fact, forget the best friend, call those television obsessed colleagues, and share every detail of your day. And your dreams. Then ask for their advice about redecorating your attic. Don’t let them off the phone until it’s dead.

Which brings me back-

The night sky, every day of the year, has something to tell you,
So does the sun first thing in the morning,
or whenever you wake.

I didn’t need to go to Balloon Festival with Chrs to appreciate summertime, or to connect with my daughter.
But I’m glad that l did.

Mid to late August, it happens.

The back to school flyers weigh more than the news/travel/ and sports section combined.

My 14 year old daughter sighs and shakes her head-“I don’t know where the time went.”

Cunningham pool posts it’s last day. Sunblock goes on sale.
I look up from everything
To wonder how the hell that happened.

The pool might close,
assignments might be due,
but the sales are going to run until it’s time for Halloween.

Summertime is time out. Time off.
A day at the beach. An hour by the barbecue. An afternoon with a good book.

Some time at the park with your kids, grandkids,
or a bunch of dogs you’re babysitting,
spying on them on the swing in the playground,
wondering where the hell time went.

I don’t know where you’re at in the journey,
but I can pass this on.

The beach doesn’t close.
The barbecue doesn’t care if it’s Monday, November, or 4 am.

Cunningham pool shuts down,
but there’s ponds, kiddie pools,
the ocean, the bay,
and the bathtub,
all offering different water temperatures and dining options.

We can move thru life
At summertime slow,
Or fall frantic.
It’s still August, my friends.

No one is going to run out of pencils.

You don’t need to start wearing fall until January,
orange is not on the runway this year.

Revel in flip flops, sundresses, and shorts of all shapes,
until knees are blue.

Stay barefoot whenever you can, have something on hand
in case you want to enter a store, a restaurant,
or have an appointment with a court officer, or a prospective employer.

There are beaches, and the water is warm.
If the sharks bother you-
There are lakes, kayaks, italian ice, baseball, drive-ins, eating outside, eating takeout from the boxes in bed while watching Netflix, bike paths, hiking trails…

These are my summer time things.

I want to say- to myself- as much as you-

It doesn’t have to end because
the bus pass came in,
or a leaf turned,
or your son graduated high school, and all his friends are going to college,
and you want him to get ready for fall.

Summer is here.

It will not leave
until we mark
it in pen
Or email a colleague
Likely to note
it’s expected departure
On the calendar.

There is time
To call your family.
Text your friends.
Light a sparkler. Go dancing.
Sing along to the radio.
Roll down the top.
Roll down the window.
Laugh out loud.
Wish on a candle.
Look at the clouds.
Buy a beach towel that
means something.

Everything else goes by so fast, everything else-

This year,
Let summer last.

We don’t need to infringe
on the Fall season-

those that love the fall,
or make their living selling leafblowers, pumpkins, and autumn colored towels-
I respect their needs too,

I am just asking for a little room
to prepare for what needs to be done
in September.

There is work to be done in September.

This year,
I need a little extra time at the beach,
Before what comes
After Summer
2018.

In the course of my life, I’ve made some really bad choices. As a matter of fact, one of my chosen topics-to-ponder of late is just how many of these bad choices, and in how much detail, do I share with my kids. Should I be a walking, talking, cautionary tale, or should I tell stories about a dear friend of mine from high school. That died a horrible, painful death.

I’m still working that out, and I will let you know what I decide. That is, unless they peel themselves away from IFunny and Instagram and read my blog. In which case, it’s a mute point.

I don’t miss standing in line for the bathroom, or checking my nose in the mirror before heading out. I don’t miss long, intense conversations about bad things that happened in high school, endless Scrabble games, or racing to the liquor store at 10:45, (I’ve spent a good part of my life in Massachusetts, liquor stores close at 11.)

I’ve never been able to figure out why I clung to those things for so long. For a little while, it was fun. We felt like we were all part of an inside joke, had stumbled on a way to feel perpetually like a member of the cool crowd. We thought our conversations were unique, our observations hysterical, our taste in clothes and restaurants and drinks and clubs and friends were impeccable.

Looking back, I suppose clothes looked good because all I’d have for dinner was three bites before I got distracted by another trip to the ladies room. Restaurants were amazing because I was only nibbling on food until I could get up and use the ladies room again. Drinks were amazing because they got me drunk, or took the edge off, depending on where I was in the evening. And friends were anyone and everyone that were doing the same stupid things that I was.

So, it’s established, I don’t miss those days. But sometimes, I miss the cigarettes. The standing outside with a stranger. The first puff, the curl of smoke and the smell of sulphur. The way that first drag established the end of a meal. The end of a day. The end of really good sex. Regret, joy, exhaustion… all of these seemed to be well celebrated with a lit Marlboro, a few minutes, and a deep couple of drags.

Now at the end of a day, or at the end of a meal, I go to the pool. We live in a small town, right outside of Boston. There is a huge outdoor pool about a mile away from our home.At 6:30 most nights, I head over. Some nights I bring my daughter. Tonight, I went by myself.

I am probably the only adult in my age group that visits Cunningham Pool without trailing behind a few kids. I know the man at the gate that checks the tags. He hasn’t asked for mine in about five years. Which is good, because I put them away as souvenirs the first day I pick them up.

I smile, make brief conversation about how hot, cold, humid or rainy it’s been. He agrees. We decide that tomorrow it will be more of the same.

Then I step inside. I peel off my clothes, I always wear my swim suit underneath. I drop them on top of my cell phone, on top of my gym bag, on top of my purse. I creep into the water, down the kiddie stairs in the shallow end. I ignore the cute babies. Most of the time, I love cute babies, but at the pool, it’s best not to think about them.

Then I swim. I slip down the length of the pool to the lap lane. First lap, I dolphin dive. I follow the floor of the pool, parallel to the bottom. I look at the pine needles and elastics. I wiggle my stomach and flop my legs like a novice mermaid. I come up, I gulp air, I dive down again. Next lap is free style. I sprint. I stretch my arms long, out of their sockets, I reach far like my coach taught me thirty some years ago. I take few breaths, I slid thru the water like a blade, or a shark, or a competitor. Next lap is back stroke. I leave my goggles on, they are cloudy, but I can make out the sun falling down, and the pine branches above. I pull hard.

I rotate the strokes. I go fast, mostly, except when I’m playing little mermaid under the water. I swim for about an hour, straight thru the adult swim, until about fifteen minutes before the pool closes. Then, I make my way thru the shallow part of the pool, to the stairs. I step out of the water I peel my goggles of my face. I pull the bottoms of my swim suit back to where they belong. I smile at the cute babies. I say hello to the moms I know, and nod at the moms I don’t . I look at the pregnant women with a mixture of awe, recognition and on really hot days, an expression that probably says “thank god I’m done with that.”

I don’t know how I can swim so long, and so fast when I consider all of the horrible things I’ve done to my body over the years. Especially the smoking. I don’t know how I can swim the length of the pool without taking a breath when I consider that for a lifetime my favorite thing to do was to fill my lungs with smoke, hold it like a gift, and then blow it away.

But I do know when I look back on these days, it will be with the knowledge that these days, and these choices are not mistakes.

I can tell my children that truth, and maybe that will hold them for a while.

Missing

July 11, 2013

It was a tough day. Lost library book.  Hot. Fight with Colin, my son, about  what I know now was absolutely nothing. Three hours ago it seemed important while I sat on my stairs and weighed punishments.

Each disagreement we have now that he is heading toward his thirteen year is dark with danger – is this the moment he stops liking me? Each punishment or consequence is an opportunity to establish important policy. (There are repercussions for not leaving a note, for taking five dollars from my purse, for teasing his sister.) Each punishment or consequence is an opportunity for me to prove myself to be an inflexible ass. (He did call my cell, I’d told him I’d give him a few dollars, and what twelve year old boy doesn’t tease his sister.)

So I removed myself, and his sister, from the battlefield. It is July, there is a pool less than a mile away, and it is open from 6 until 7:45 every week night.

Katy and I swam. I did laps, she chased behind me and grabbed my toes when she could. I taught her the words to a song that begins “There once was a farmer who took a young miss”. I got irritated when she fell behind on our way to the car. She wasn’t happy when I denied her movie request. It was a wonderful, normal summertime night.

When we got home, the lights were out. I called for Colin. No answer. I fed the animals, I reminded Katy that we were not going to add a hamster to our menagerie until I was not the only one feeding the animals.

I called for Colin. It was dark. There wasn’t a note. Most nights, I would have just taken the dog to the park to remind him of the time. But he and I had been arguing. He wouldn’t have gone to the park.

I checked the phone for incoming calls, a telemarketer called from Seattle at 7:30. I checked the phone for outgoing calls. He’d called a friend at 5:15.

I went to the park. It was dark. It was quiet. There was a teenager smoking by the batting cage. The teenager said no one had been there for at least an hour.

I texted the moms of his friends. “Looking for Colin. Heard from him?” I didn’t want to panic anyone, or look like an idiot when he strolled in dribbling his basketball. I don’t like it when he bounces that damn ball in the house. I looked for the ball, couldn’t find it. No word from Colin

I called one of the moms, and kept my tone light. She volunteered to come pick me up, take me out so we could look for him together. I made a joke about not being ready to be “one of those moms”, but if I’d known her better, I would have said yes.

When he’s nervous, everything that he says sounds like it’s heading for a punchline. It’s why by the end of the school year, half of his teachers are in love with him and half of them want to give him detention in someone else’s classroom for the rest of his life.

That is my son. And right after I thought just that thought, it occurred to me. When he’s in trouble, he gets scared. When he gets scared, he gets tired.

He was in bed. Colin was tucked in, under four blankets, behind a door in a room sealed shut, like I told him to do, when he runs the air conditioner. The air conditioner must be ten years old. It is loud. It doesn’t have power saver or even a thermostat. Just high and low.

Colin had it on low. I guess he had heard my lecture on not wasting power and that other charming ditty of mine about not zoning out in front of the tv.  He’d even paid attention to that speech about reading more books; “The Chronicles of Captain Underpants” was just next to him, on top of his blankets, book mark placed towards the end.

He was missing and I missed him so much. And there he was, sleeping upstairs while I worried, cursed, wept and made stupid jokes so no one would know just how scared I was.

There is a lesson here, and I’m just not ready to learn it. I hope I have a little more time.

     Tomorrow, I’m taking the gang to the beach. We are going to pack a cooler with fried chicken from Shaws and a big thermos of lemonade. We are going to remember the frisbee and the football and the boogie boards. On the way I am going to sing along to hip hop and 80’s music until the kids cry for mercy, and/or promise to clear the table for the rest of the time they live at home.

When we get there we will find parking. The tide won’t be too high or too low. The water temperature will be cool enough to refresh, but not cold enough to hurt my toes. Tomorrow, I am going to make a day feel like a week, but it will end when I blink my eyes. I will take plenty of pictures. I will remember every single second forever.

And I promise I won’t hide under the beach umbrella posting whatever cute thing someone said on Facebook. I wo’t need to. I will remember every single second forever.