Tag Archives: summer

Longing for Lazy

Will we ever stop and smell the fried chicken again?

Tying the laces of my red Converse, which did not quite match my pink polyester halter top, I could not contain my excitement. It was a hot summer day in 1975, and I was going to the pool.

My Kool-Aid backpack – bought with collected labels and saved allowance – was stuffed with my bathing suit, a Budweiser beach towel, a rainbow headband with a really cool transparent visor, and enough coins to buy a raspberry snow cone at the snack bar.

My mother agreed to drop me off after setting her hair, and I couldn’t wait to get out of our neighborhood. Since school let out a few weeks prior, I’d had enough running through sprinklers and playing with Baby Tender Love to last an eternity. Mom put a scarf over her pink plastic rollers, applied a bit of orange lipstick, and we were off.

Unbelted in the front seat of our station wagon, I craned my neck out the window to escape the smoke of my mother’s Tareyton 100s. It was the 70s after all. Everyone’s mom lit up back then. Even if they didn’t show it on TV, it was assumed that Shirley Partridge and Ann Romano hadn’t kicked the habit, and Caroline Ingalls was probably puffing Charles’ elm pipe while he was off fishing with Half-pint.

Hues Corporation’s “Rock the Boat” crackled on the radio as we pulled up the pool entrance. As I slammed the simulated-wood-paneled door, my mother called, “See you at four-o-clock Dumpling!”

That day, I perfected my underwater hand stand, braved the high dive, made a friend, got whistled at for running, and found a dime. By the time Mom picked me up, my skin was wrinkled and I was seeing rainbows around every light.

The next day, I was back to sprinklers and Baby Tender Love. Aside from a week at church camp and a visit from my cousins, my summer was a continuously running loop of the same activities – popsicles, sprinklers, bare feet, pools, dolls, fireflies, and many minutes staring out the window, wondering what to do.

While I was bored and barefoot on those summer days, my mother had plenty of time to garden, nap on her chase lounge, paint with watercolors, can vegetables, crochet groovy afghan squares, and smoke Tareyton 100s.

By the time the first day of school rolled around, we were both ready.

Today, by contrast, summer is pretty much the same as the rest of the year, except hotter.

We set the alarm every morning for sports practices. We order books required for school summer reading programs. We register our kids for online classes, and monitor their progress daily. We’re always late for music lessons. We throw dinner together last minute, we forget to put the car windows up before it rains, we never get around to dusting.

There’s no time to be bored because there’s too much going on. Halfway through the summer, we realize that we’ve haven’t been to the pool. We never got around to doing that beading project we saved for summer. There was no opportunity to take a delicious afternoon nap. That tomato plant I intended to pot on the screened porch has dried and shriveled from neglect.

When did the lazy days of summer turn into summer break at breakneck pace?

Why does it go so fast when it used to last forever? Why are family vacations so exhausting these days? Does anyone grow vegetables in gardens anymore, much less can them? Will I ever be able to stare out the window again? Is it too late to take up smoking?

With only a couple precious weeks of summer break left, I’ve realized something. Summer used to be time of relaxation, when the most difficult task was figuring out how to spend the day. Nowadays, a must-do-it-all mentality has crept into our family lives, robbing us of a much-needed break.

Before it’s too late, I will discipline myself to forget to set the alarm. Skip practice. Unplug the computer. Cut up a watermelon. Turn on the sprinkler. Doze off while sitting in a lawn chair. Pitch a tent in the backyard. Grill hot dogs. Play cards. Catch fireflies. Lie in a hammock and look at the Moon.

With lots of hard work, it’s possible to be lazy again.

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Redefining Hang Ten

My mom and sister-in-law doing what we do best at the beach.

Whether it was pouring cold from the garden hose, stagnating in a blow up pool, or sparkling blue below the high dive at the community park, when I was a kid I tried to be in water all summer long. Especially on our summer beach vacations, where my brother and I spent the vast majority of our waking hours in the Atlantic Ocean.

Despite my portly frame, I had a certain natural grace in the water, slicing through waves with effortless fluidity. I dove, hands outstretched, head tucked, toes pointed, into oncoming waves, and with one dolphin kick burst through to the surface, unscathed, hair slicked. On calm days, I explored the depths weightlessly, hands at my sides, eyes open, propelling myself with “Man from Atlantis” undulations.

Before Boogie boards were invented, we rode the waves on inflatable canvas rafts. Paddling “Hawaii Five-0” style, I flew high on the crest in an exhilarating rush toward the towels and umbrellas. If I got dumped, I tumbled helplessly like a rag doll in a washing machine, over and over, head over heels, until I was released, choking, with a snoot full of water, grit in my teeth, and a scrape on the end of my nose.

My daughter emerging from the surf’s spin cycle.

I’d wait a minute for that sneezy tickle in my sinuses to subside, and run back to the water, swimming, slicing, flying.

Thirty years later, I find myself at the beach with my brother again. But now, we watch our own kids, six in all, romping in the waves, from the comfort of our beach chairs. An hour goes by and I have an unflattering moustache of beaded sweat under my nose. The cold beverages from the cooler have been going down quite nicely, but now my bladder is full. Walking back to the cottage just to go to the bathroom seems such a waste of relaxation time.

I resolve to go for a swim. Why not. I used to spend the entire day in the ocean, 10am to 4pm, with one stop for a quick lunch – usually a cheese sandwich and some Tang. I swam like a fish, and rode waves like a dolphin. Nothin’ to it.

I try to stand up but lurch forward only a couple inches before falling back into the chair. The low center of gravity, along with my middle aged stomach muscles, forces me to try a new approach. Gripping the armrests, I swing my head forward, hoping my torso’s momentum will lift my rear high enough out of the seat for my legs to take over.

It works, and I march into the water, smiling and waving to the kids. Knee deep, I see a formidable trough where waves are thudding solidly onto the sand. I realize that I have to somehow get through a ditch of spinning, sandblasting current without making a total idiot out of myself.

I want to turn back, but nature calls. Miraculously, the churning roll of water and sand in the ditch doesn’t suck me in, and I struggle through without getting my hair wet. Ha! I’ve still got it, I think, and swim toward the kids triumphantly.

“Watch out, Mom!” my daughter yells, as a huge breaker barrels in. So much for keeping my hair dry. I dive under the wave, and it feels as though my body has just been fed through the wringer of an old Horton washing machine. I pop up looking like a drowned rat, but feeling somewhat athletic, as another beautiful teal green wave rises up ahead of me.

“Let’s ride this one!” I yell to the kids. No sooner do I experience the thrill of being carried on the top of the wave, than my face hits the sandy bottom. I hear a tiny crunch as my legs are thrown over my head. I’m not sure how many times I tumble, but I eventually struggle to my feet in the foamy surf, with my suit cocked sideways and drooping with ten pounds of sand.

Staggering back to find a towel, I realize that I’m not a kid anymore. Like years, the waves keep rolling by, and although the water still calls to me, I’m perfectly happy to sit back and watch from the comfort of my beach chair.

Now THAT’s what I’m talking about.

Summer’s Rite of Passage

I cautiously reached into the dark, dank cavity and pulled out the filthy, wretched garments. Fearing for my safety, I pinched my nose shut with one hand, and carried the contaminated bundle with an outstretched arm to be disinfected.

My son was home from Scout camp, and I had the unenviable job of doing his dirty laundry. He, on the other hand, had returned an hour before, grunted at us, and promptly went to bed.

His troop spent a week in the mountains, where they slept in tents, white water rafted, cooked over a fire and hiked almost 30 miles. My son had a blast.

Summer camp. There’s nothing quite like it. The anticipation, the initial fear, the late nights, the physical challenges, the relationships formed. For that one or two weeks every summer, a kid is transformed to a place where he and his tent mates experience powerful emotions and form intense bonds. 

Then they go home, and give their mothers their dirty laundry.

But I don’t mind. I was a kid once too, and I want my kids to experience the same things I did.

Like the summer in the 1970s when I went off to camp in the Pennsylvania mountains. The two-week church camp attracted an intimidating mix of sheltered milk toast do-gooders from the country, preppy snobs from the wealthy Pittsburg suburbs, and a few token oddballs like me, all supervised by fresh-scrubbed, born-again, college-aged counselors.

Upon arrival, we were randomly assigned to the Galatians or the Romans teams, scheduled to wage a battle of biblical proportions through competitions in archery, swimming, canoeing, gymnastics, basketball, macramé and other events. 

The first couple of days of camp were rough. I thought my kelly green corduroy OP shorts were fashionably preppy, but they were no match for the city girls’ Tretorns, Izods and Docksiders. And when it came to bible study, I couldn’t hold a candle to the country kids who had all read the Old Testament by the third grade. Little did I know that as the days passed, we would all bond through the necessary trials and tribulations of camp life.

Like the night we all packed into a farm cart for a tractor-pulled hay ride. We were so excited to ride around the lake and sing our newly learned camp songs. But as the tractor chugged up the embankment from the lake to the road, something popped, and the wagon broke loose. Slowly at first, the cart full of campers rolled backwards toward the lake. As the wayward vessel picked up speed, counselors began shouting, which triggered the campers to scream. I screamed too, believing for that instant that we would careen into the dark water and all be tragically drowned.

Just then, the wagon hit some tall grass and inexplicably slowed, coming to a stop just before the water’s edge. It was a miracle – we were at church camp after all – and that night my cabin mates and I finally bonded over facing certain death.

Although he still harbors bitterness toward his fellow cabin mates, my husband had similar camp experiences. Back in the 70s he, too, was shipped off to the mountains for a couple weeks in the summer.

Quite a husky fellow, he was relieved to learn that each camper was entitled to one candy bar of their choice every day from the camp cantina. Despite the obvious motivation, he wasn’t able to locate the cantina and never got his daily candy ration.

On the overnight hike, my husband’s flashlight was stolen which meant he had no light to guide him to the latrine. That night, he accused the kid he suspected of stealing it, who flatly denied the charges. The next morning, after a long dark night, the accused kid returned the flashlight, which he had stolen after all, now with dead batteries.

At the camp’s Sunday religious service, there was a band. In the middle of a song, the guitarist had a seizure, collapsing on the altar and gagging on his own tongue. The counselors rushed to his aid, shoving his wallet in his mouth so he wouldn’t bite off his tongue before the ambulance arrived to rush him away.

The traumatic event made quite an impact on my husband. All he wanted was a candy bar that night to comfort himself, but he still didn’t know where the cantina was, and his flashlight didn’t work anyway.

Fun and adventurous, or traumatic and humiliating, all summer camp experiences offer the same benefit: a kid experiences emotions on his own, without his parents there to guide or comfort him. And by the end of summer camp, every camper in the world brings home a new understanding of himself, a groovy macramé bracelet, and a duffel bag full of dirty laundry for Mom.

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Sand In My Pants

Despite taking every precaution, I can’t seem to get the sand out of my pants. I rinsed in the sand shower before setting foot in the beach house. I left my flip-flops on the screened porch. I sealed my camera in a zip lock baggie. I kept my sea glass and shells in a bucket out on the deck. But everywhere I turn, I find those pesky little grains of silica.  

As I unpack my suitcase and shake the sand out of my belongings, I simultaneously feel both melancholy about the impending end of summer and relief that my yearly family beach vacation is finally over.

My elephant skin, straw-like hair and wobbly gut signal the need for a break from the sun, saltwater and afternoon beers. But underlying all those weathered over-abundant body tissues lies a soul in need of some solitude.

Sure, beach vacations are fantastic and my love for my extended family is undisputed, but lock me in a house with Mother Theresa and by day 14, I’m totally fed up and complaining about her using my shampoo. Now, replace Mother Theresa with a large, diverse family with a long, complicated history, and around day 10, I’m beginning to lose my mind.

Every year we pack our extended family of 11 into our 1970s beach cottage in the Outer Banks that sleeps 10 uncomfortably. Like one of those bad reality shows, it all starts with a chaotic dash for the good beds. Then the suitcases explode, turning our otherwise tidy old cottage into a veritable landfill. Previously spartan countertops are heaped with soda cans, chips, sunglasses, lotion, shells, Hot Wheels, cameras, wallets, coffee cake, peanuts, and sticky spots from spilled daiquiri mix.

The cast of our reality show includes a ditzy grandmother affectionately called “Maz that Spaz.” There’s my brother, the abrasive jet pilot, and his attractive Canadian wife, who have raised a slim family of A-personalities who aggressively and successfully fight for whatever life has to offer. Then there’s my husband and I who, a bit soft and squishy literally and figuratively, raised our kids to be nothing more than B-minus personalities who appreciate eccentricities and accept physical mediocrity.

Don’t forget the six cousins, including three hormonal teenagers who alternatively scream, whine and grunt; an anxious “tween” with unreasonable fear of sharks, boys and germs; an over-active 5th grader whose developmental challenges have bestowed upon him the magical ability to recite every line of every movie he has ever seen; and one goofy 10-year-old whose quest for attention knows no bounds.

Add to all that my cantankerous father and his second wife who retired to a home only 12 blocks away from our beach cottage, and a myriad of other odd relatives who drop in to visit us during our vacation, and you’ve got a drama more akin to “The Perfect Storm” than “Beaches.”

Despite it all, we subject ourselves to this madness every summer. Each year we look forward to it, and each year we can’t wait for it to end. Like the sand in our pants, we infiltrate each other’s lives. And no matter how irritating it can be, we keep coming back for more.

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