Ella and Annie started school a week ago – 6th and 8th, their only year in middle school together – and, amazingly, everything went off without a hitch. They were ready for this transition: supplies were purchased in early August. Discussions had taken place with friends regarding classes and lockers and sitting on the bus. (In case you’re wondering, siblings never share a bus seat – like, ever. It’s the law.) Lunches were considered the night before, their containers carefully arranged on the counter.
They even set their own alarms, got themselves up, and were ready to pose for obligatory first-day photos 5 minutes before the bus arrived (at 6:58 a.m.). Given that we’ve had first days where tears have been shed by 3/4 of the household, I will take this as an enormous win.
In addition to just getting older – and more self-sufficient, self-confident, and self-aware – I suspect there’s another reason for Annie and Ella’s eagerness to get back to the grind: we had a wonderful, bucolic, dreamy, perfect summer.
Arlington discovered how much he loved the boat
This may sound counterintuitive; I mean, doesn’t a marvelous summer beget never wanting summer to end?
To be certain, SUMMER! is uniquely glorious. It helped skyrocket the Beach Boys to fame, has cornered the sunscreen and ice cream and watermelon markets, and has inspired entire television programs (Phineas and Ferb, I’m looking at you). But this gloriousness exists in large part because it is temporary. While many a 4th grade persuasive essay has been devoted to convincing school boards and parents that summer should last forever and ever, amen, the fact remains that summer is only SUMMER! when it has a beginning and an end… and when we all return to normal life upon its completion.
Visiting with their cousins in Minnesota…
… and splashing with their uncles in Canandaigua.
Plus, you know, seasons; running through the sprinkler when it’s snowing loses a certain je ne sais quoi.
A great deal of the joy we derived from this summer was due to it feeling like we were on borrowed time. “If this were a school day, I’d be in math right now, not just having breakfast…” “We can’t watch TV this late on a school night!” “If we ate ice cream like this all year long, we’d be dead…” The days – fleeting as they were – felt stolen, as though we were getting away with something, and that made it just a little bit more magic.
Fabulicious doughnuts in Minneapolis
Much space on this blog has been devoted to my dissecting summer – how, for so many years (and especially as the mother of youngish children), it was a really difficult thing for me. Not enough structure. Nothing getting accomplished. Needing to entertain or supervise my offspring day and night with no time for solo caramel macchiatos. Depression and anxiety moving in. Relying on Xanax.
In my most recent posts about the season, I noted that, as my girls got older, much of my summer anxiety lifted. They could entertain themselves! I could run to Target unaccompanied! I won’t rehash that this time around (you’re welcome), but I will say that this was really the first summer where Ella, Annie, and I felt everything fell into place just so.
Some things we’ve learned:
- GO AWAY FIRST.
Boarding a cruise ship in Barcelona
We’ve been fortunate to be able to take vacations the past few summers and have discovered that, for us, doing it really close to when school gets out is the best. Yeah, having something to look forward to after weeks of arguing over who gets the last icy pop is awesome… but for those of us for whom anxiety is a thing (HELLO!), sometimes a big, exciting plan in the future is actually kind of overwhelming – especially without school, sports, and elementary band concerts as distractions. Getting away right at the start of summer feels like a reward for making it through the year. It also doesn’t quite feel like SUMMER! – it’s not camp or barbecues or bonfires or swimming with friends – so, for us, SUMMER! is postponed by a few weeks… which means that summer boredom is postponed, too. It used to be that Annie and Ella made it till mid-July without trying to kill one another. Last year (our first time traveling early), they didn’t begin fighting like gladiators until August. This year? They pretty much made it all 11 weeks without slipping into mind-numbing ennui. Sweet fancy Moses!
Our travels took us to Europe. First, Barcelona, where we stayed with the friends we met on our first cruise in 2014…
… followed by a cruise that took us to Italy, France, and Majorca.
Europe is delightful.
- LET THE KIDS DECIDE WHAT THEY WANT TO DO
No, not all the time. This is not a democracy, people. We did, however, really talk with our girls to find out what they wanted out of summer – and then we made it happen, more or less. Ella chose to attend a one week, half-day pottery camp… and that was it. All summer. Nothing else. Which kind of terrified me (I mean, 13 year-old girls and their mothers sharing a space is totally a recipe for peace, am I right?)… but we did it anyway.
Annie, on the other hand, wanted to attend pottery camp – but also a two-week, full day acting camp and she wanted to go away with a friend for a few days. I worried this would be too much – that she wouldn’t have enough down time, that she’d be exhausted. But she insisted, and was totally excited, so we gave it a go.
Both of their decisions could have turned out to be crap, and then we’d have had to reevaluate next summer. Instead? They were happy. as. clams. (I don’t actually know if clams are happy, but the girls were as happy as whatever is happy. Happy as puppies? Sure.) Letting them more or less decide how to spend their own summer time was pretty rad. (<– I just realized that this should probably apply to, like, their lives in general, not just summer. Hmmmm.)
- SPEND A BUNCH OF TIME TOGETHER
This year, Annie, Ella and I hung out a ton. We started – and nearly finished – both seasons of Queer Eye. We went to Mamma Mia 2 and an ABBA tribute band concert with the Rochester Philharmonic. We made the annual trek to our local amusement park, walked in the Pride parade, and took the boat to Starbucks for breakfast. These were blissful, wondrous moments – made even better by the fact that, as the girls get older, we genuinely enjoy so many of the same things.
State Fair t-shirts
- SPEND A BUNCH OF TIME APART
Obviously, Annie was away from home more than Ella this summer, so that meant we had less time together… but even when it was just Ella and me at home, we often did our own thing. She read in her room and listened to music. I ran errands and read my own books. These were blissful, wondrous moments, made even better by the fact that, as the girls get older, they genuinely enjoy doing their own thing.
- EAT A METRIC TON OF ICE CREAM
There is a direct correlation between the amount of ice cream consumed during summer break and how happy you feel. This is called science. We believe in science.
I guess what I’m saying is that the key to an enchanting summer is balance. Days when you’re super busy and days when you watch an entire season of Modern Family. Staying and getting up late, but not so late that the whole day is off kilter. Traveling and visiting family but also plenty of time at home.
Back when the girls were little and summer started off so wonderfully but quickly dissolved into disconnected anxiousness, I don’t think I’d have believed that it could ever again be the joyous reprieve it was when I was a kid.
I’ll admit: I was wrong. It took a while (we’re talking years), but we’ve gotten there.
We will undoubtedly still have summers where I count down the days till Annie and Ella get on the bus (and then count down the hours till they get home; parenting is weird), but this one was damned good. And I’m grateful.
I’m also grateful that it’s over. We needed summer, but it really is only special when it’s SUMMER!
Balance, y’all. Balance.