Friday, August 14, 2015

Swirling August

The summer my youngest was a baby and the older two clumsy toddlers, it rained. A lot. Nearly every day, for weeks. I finally sent the 2-year-olds outside, wearing nothing but rain boots and giddy grins, to play in the giant mud puddles on our driveway, while I sat on the front porch with the baby, glad they were, briefly, occupied.

Back then summer seemed to stretch toward an impossibly far horizon, with no swimming or bike rides or hikes – and plenty of sleep deprivation and diaper changes. I loved being with my children, but there was lots of space to fill around nap times, and that vast stretch of time often felt formidable. As one person told me, “The days are long, but the years are short.”

Now it seems the days fly right by, and summer is a whirlwind of activity. When we flip the calendar to August, I can feel summer swirling toward the final whoosh that will suck us into September.

One part of me is looking forward to returning to my regular work routine, having time to catch up on all that I’ve neglected these last two months. I spend a good portion of the summer figuring out how to meet deadlines with approximately eight dedicated work hours per week, plus daily coffee-fueled, early morning sessions. If you’ve ever tried to research a project or draft correspondence while attending to the endless (and beautiful) curiosity of an 8-year-old, handling (not always patiently) repeated requests for snacks from a constantly ravenous 6-year-old, and alternately admiring how nicely the children are playing together and breaking up squabbles over the most inane issues, you can relate to my summer work challenges.

Another part of me dreads the coming frenzy of September, with its return to school days and homework, soccer practice and schedules. In these waning days of summer freedom, I try to lock into my mind forever the image of my daughter running through waves, dancing with the summer sun. Of my son peering seriously into the water, his swim goggles pushing ears out at goofy, endearing angles. Of the littlest one, bright-eyed and squirming with delight as a hermit crab scuttles across her outstretched palm.

If you’ve ever lingered on the hot sand or in the cool river of a child’s summer, watched as they made some new discovery or conquered a new skill, tried to hold on to the enchanting and uninhibited giggles of children playing, you know the aching joy of watching – and helping – kids grow up. Too fast. Always too fast. The years, indeed, are short.

I am thankful that my work and my husband’s work allow me to spend so much time with my children, to have these summers for as long as they last. I know there are only so many more years when my children will want to share their adventures so wholly with me, when we’ll be mostly free to play and explore and make the summer days up as we go along.

At the start of the season, my kids were bursting with ideas of fun, summery things to do. Outings to rivers and ponds, new hikes and bike rides and old favorites, trips to the ocean, lots of ice cream. In June we jumped from school straight into soccer camp, which overlapped with a week of adventures with the California cousins. We spent July adjusting to these long days of changed timing and responsibility, closing out the month with our annual pilgrimage to Cape Cod, and returning home to wild days and late nights with the Tennessee cousins.

Now, in August, we are in the full swing of summer, but we know these days are numbered. Already, twilight arrives earlier each day, mornings hold a coolness they didn’t two weeks ago, and there is a telling twinge of fallish color creeping into the hillsides.

We’re cramming as much as we can into these last weeks before school. Camping out in the back yard, with the Milky Way wandering through the sky above our tents. Exploring new bike paths and swimming holes with friends we won’t see much once school starts, and venturing out with school friends we don’t see so often during summer. Wandering through the woods near home with the dog. Impromptu Lego sessions on the living room floor. Trips to the library. Soccer in the front yard. Maybe one more visit to the ocean, another hike, a few more swims in the river before it gets too cold – or we are distracted by other, non-summer, things. Before we shift from carefree summer back to the routine of fall.

I’m expecting that shift to be brutal this year, in part because my children, for the first time in their young lives, have taken to sleeping in this summer. We have essentially abandoned any pretense of a regular bedtime during these days when light hangs in the sky well past their school-year tucking-in time. Most days there is no pitter patter of not-so-little-anymore feet coming down the stairs until 7 o’clock. Some mornings closer to 8. There is no rush to eat breakfast or get dressed or put down the good book that kept someone up later than I know the night before.

I think we’re all in for the rudest of awakenings when their alarm clocks chime at 6:42 a.m. one Monday morning coming soon, marking the start of the first school day of the year and the end of summer. I keep thinking I should ease the kids into that first early rise, start getting them to bed earlier so that first day is not so harsh.

But these summer days of childhood are so sweet, so ephemeral. September will be here soon enough, with all its structured activity and responsibility and early mornings. Maybe it’s better to let the kids soak up all the sunshiny freedom they can, linger in bed a few more mornings, hold on to summer right to the last moment.

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her Blog: Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the August 14, 2015 edition of the Littleton Record.


  1. Very nicely told and written, Meghan! Our five-year old grandson, from Brooklyn, was here last week, soaking up the joys of open space, trees, a park next door, and plentiful lakes to go swimming in - all things he doesn't have access to in NYC. He started kindergarten yesterday back in Brooklyn, and had to get up at 6:45 to go on a 95 degree day until 6 at night (after school so parents can pick up). I'm so glad he had the week in more natural surroundings with us. Hope you are very well! John Helland

  2. Thanks for the note, John! Wonder who had more fun... the grandson or the grandparents? We try to get a city fix every now and then, but I'm glad to wake up most mornings in the quiet of the mountains.