At some point, several years into adulthood, it struck me that although I no longer had that last-day-of school excitement, with summer’s carefree days stretching infinitely into the hazy heat of the season, I still thrilled at the arrival of summer. So ingrained was that feeling of summer freedom that I felt it as the days lengthened and warmed as clearly as I had as a kid, even though my schedule of work and responsibility was the same now in July as it was in November or March.
Maybe that lingering sense of summer freedom is because I have always lived in places where summer – with its warmth and color and long days – is fleeting. Or maybe it’s that I have so many good memories of the season from my childhood – hiking with my family, lazy afternoons of reading in the backyard hammock, time in the garden with my mother, catching fireflies just after dusk, sparklers on the 4th of July by the backyard campfire, countless hours spent kicking a soccer ball, and one epic cross-country journey with my parents and brothers and a pop-up camper.
Whatever the reason, now that I have kids who fully embrace the joys of summer – kids old enough to put on their own sunscreen and carry their own backpacks, but still a few years away from summer jobs and the dreaded teenage years of being too hip to hang with Mom – summer has regained that sense of freedom and insouciance.
Here are some of the things I love about summer:
· Jumping into cool water on a hot day.
· Reading by the big window in our living room – or on the front porch – after the kids are tucked in, as twilight slowly engulfs the mountains, passing through an impossible array of subtle hues on its way to full dark.
· The smell of roses: heady and heavenly.
· The sparkle of a thousand fireflies twinkling across the field, as close to magic as anything I’ve seen.
· Family soccer games in the front yard.
· Watching my children fall into books and get lost there for chunks of time – bed time, after breakfast time, by the pool or river time.
· Clean sheets dried on the clothesline and smelling of sunshine.
· Color. So much color.
· Flowers picked from the field and the garden and placed in a simple glass jar on the dining room table.
· Birdsong, even the annoyingly redundant call of the catbird at dawn.
· Vegetables gathered from the garden: the succulent result of the tilling and planting and weeding and watering.
· Trips to the ocean.
· Bike rides through the woods.
· Outings with friends and our combined gaggle of children.
· (Mostly) unrushed mornings – and not having to pack lunches every single day.
· Thunder echoing through the mountains and the cooling rain which often follows.
· The games my children imagine together, whether they are pretending to be wild animals (sometimes not much of a stretch) or building a fort in the woods by the river.
· Running in the quiet and relative coolness of early morning.
· Fresh, wild berries, found unexpectedly and consumed on the spot – or gathered purposefully and tucked into the freezer for less bountiful days to come.
· Flip-flops. Or, even better, going barefoot.
· Campfires and s’mores and late-night laughter.
· Standing atop a tall mountain with my children, who are still discovering how much they can do, how far they can climb – and who still want me along for the adventure.
There are hitches in all this summer freedom, of course. Often the garden goes unweeded, becoming jungle-like while we are off hiking and splashing in the river. All those house projects I swore I’d tackle this season get pushed, once again, to next season’s to-do list. And my work hours are severely diminished in these weeks when the kids are with me nearly all the time.
When I ask my children, though, what they love most about summer, all three place “spending more time with my family” at the top of the list. Perhaps this will not always be their favorite part of summer; certainly they will outgrow this self-sufficient-yet-still-ingenuous phase, as they have outgrown other childhood phases.
So I am taking advantage of these days when they want to do things, go places, explore and adventure together. Someday, I hope, when they have moved beyond the enchanting freedom of their childhood summers, they will still thrill at the season’s arrival, still embrace the simple joys of summer, still remember all the sweet summer fun we had together.