Balancing Summer

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.
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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.

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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?

Nope-ity nope!

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.

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Visiting with their cousins in Minnesota…IMG_8459IMG_8594
… 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.
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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.
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    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…
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    … followed by a cruise that took us to Italy, France, and Majorca.
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    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.

 

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    IMG_E1022Annie, 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.
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    IMG_E0547Both 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
    IMG_E0304This 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.IMG_E0467IMG_1002
    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.IMG_9633
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  • 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.
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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.
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We Really (really) Had It All

To borrow from Lin-Manual Miranda, it was a bit of a weekend*.

Ten long months ago (looooong months ago), I’d been among the throngs of people hovered over their laptops and Ticketmaster apps to press the “Search for Tickets” button at exactly 10:00 on a Thursday morning in December with the hopes of getting to see Adele in concert. Amazingly, I got through and was able to secure tickets for the four of us to attend her final show in Toronto.

Thus began the waiting. And the secrecy. Nick and I knew ten months would be an eternity for the girls, so we deliberately kept knowledge of the concert from them until an unexpected Adele radio moment last month where we caved and told Ella and Annie that what they thought was merely a weekend getaway to Toronto was more than just seeing the sights.

(Cue ebullient mayhem.)

Ana so, at long, long last, after wondering if after all these (months) we’d be like to meet…
Hello.
img_7319Giddy outside the Air Canada Centre.

This was the Ella and Annie’s first concert (okay, first real concert; they did see the Laurie Berkener Band when they were about 1.5 and 3.5) and, after having watched 738 YouTube videos of other Adele performances, we knew it would be one helluva show, an experience that would be hard to top.

We never dreamed it would become a once-in-a-lifetime event.

We arrived at the Air Canada Centre with plenty of time to settle in. Knowing the kiddos would be uber-tired by the end of the night (and that we wouldn’t want to leave mid-show to shop), I took the girls to check out the souvenirs before the show. When we made it to the front of the line, Ella and I quickly chose t-shirts. Annie hemmed and hawed, saying that she wanted the black notebook tucked in the glass case and “a pencil.” Because pencils were only available by the $25 package and the notebook cost $40, I told her she would have to choose one or the other (even with the exchange rate, $65 for pencils and some paper wasn’t happening).

She chose the notebook.

As the woman who was helping us brought the book out of the case, the employee standing next to her leaned over and beckoned me close so I could hear him. In a whisper, he told me, “You’ve selected a unique and special item. Open the first page.”

My stomach immediately jolted. Why would he have us check the page if nothing was there? Holy shit. WHAT WAS THERE??? There was no way – NO WAY – that Adele had anything to do with that page… Omg…

My hands actually began to shake as I handed the notebook to Annie. “Open it!” I barked, startling her (apparently, my “filled with excitement and anticipation” voice sounds a lot like my, “you’re in deep doodoo” voice). She did… revealing what looked to be a signature.

Adele’s signature.

“Oh my God, Annie. Oh my God. OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD.” (We typically ask the girls to say “Oh my gosh” and try to do the same ourselves, but in this case, all bets were off.)

As she stared reverently at her autographed notebook, I handed over my credit card, half expecting the employees to tell us that our “unique and special item” cost $400, not $40… but no. They rang the transaction up as if nothing had happened. Growing skeptical, I asked the woman who was bagging up our shirts, “Is this for real??”

Again, the man beside her answered. “It is. She signed five of them after the VIP event this afternoon and we’re selling them randomly around the arena. See? They even have today’s date. Your daughter made a lucky choice.”

OH.
MY.
GOD.
img_7321Posing before the show with the world’s luckiest notebook.

I’m not sure that the girls fully appreciated the incredibleness of this (although my near-hyperventilating probably clued them in), but it certainly caused us all to be in a state of wonder as the concert began.

And the concert itself? Adele, live and in person and singing and talking and laughing that marvelous cackle?
Breathtaking. Hilarious. Astounding. Powerful. Triumphant. Joyful.

Amazing. Just… amazing.
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We had floor seats and assumed the rest of the floor-goers would remain seated for most of the concert. HAHAHA. For a few songs, Adele actually instructed us to park our tushes and sit, but for the rest? FULL ON STANDING for the entire show… which meant that Ella and Annie could see nothing but the shoulders of the people in front of us for the entire show.

We attempted to stand the girls on their folding chairs, making sure they weren’t taller than the folks behind us… but, since we were on the end of the row and, thus, easily accessible, the security guards put the kibosh on that quickly (By contrast, the family in the middle of the row ahead of us stood their children on chairs the whole time.) “Our” security guard (Richard) couldn’t have been nicer, explaining he felt terrible our kids couldn’t see; it was just a safety issue. It was frustrating to have the rules enforced only for those within reach, but we understood and readily complied.

Making the best of things, we watched Adele on the overhead screens and held the girls whenever possible. Midway through the show, as Adele made her way to the small, closer, middle-of-the-floor-seats stage from which she’d emerged at the beginning, Richard tapped my shoulder. “Would your girls like to come with me to a spot where they can see a little better?”

Um. YES?!?

Annie and Ella would later tell us they were brought to a clearing closer to the small stage, offering an unobstructed view. At the time, we had no idea where they were, only that Richard was in charge. Every so often, he’d catch our eye and give us the thumbs-up that all was well; we trusted that it was. Several songs later, the girls returned to us, all smiles.

Ninety-or-so minutes after she began, Adele disappeared from the small stage. Richard confirmed that she wasn’t quite finished, silently holding up two fingers and mouthing, “Two more!”

We were enjoying the penultimate number (“When We Were Young”) when yet another security guard tapped me on the shoulder. “Would your children like to see the last song from the front of the stage?”

The girls were actually hesitant – the stage was pretty far away – but when you’re offered the chance to see Adele from the freakin’ best spot in the arena, you do not turn it down. That said, I had no idea how we’d find them in the mad crush when the concert ended so I, too, became hesitant. Sensing my uncertainty, the guard leaned in again. “Mom, you’d be coming, too!”

Oh. In that case? LET’S GO!!

I took a moment to confirm with the guard that Nick was also welcome (yes), and then, t-shirts and notebook and bags in hand, we began following her down the outer aisle of the floor, past row after row… after row… after row. I kept saying aloud to the girls, “I can hardly breathe. Oh my God, oh my God. I can’t believe it! I can hardly breathe.” They probably thought I was insane.

When, finally, we reached a temporary barrier approximately ten rows from the front, we stopped… but were beckoned on by the security guard, who adroitly pushed the gate aside and continued to make her way ahead. When we reached the seeming end of the aisle several feet from the barriers in front of the stage and, again, it seemed we could go no further, the guard asked other people to move out of the way and told us to keep going.

And when we reached the metal barriers immediately in front of the stage and, again, it seemed we could go no further, the guards physically moved the people who were already standing there, instructing, “Let these little girls in!”

What alternate reality is this???

Thus it was that we found as close as humanly possible to Adele (without being on the stage) as she sang “Rolling in the Deep” for her final encore. Nick kept back a few yards, not wanting to crowd the space, while I remained near enough to the girls so when all hell broke loose at the show’s conclusion, I could easily locate them… which meant when Adele walked by and waved, she looked all three of us directly in the eye and smiled.

We made eye contact with Adele and she SMILED AT US.

So basically, we were privately serenaded by Adele.

SWEET. FANCY. MOSES.

img_7353Ella with her iPod to record this mind-boggling turn of events.

img_7355Annie waving madly to Adele – WHO FREAKIN’ WAVED BACK.

img_7357AND THEN ADELE WAVED AT ME. And I died and went to heaven right then and there.

No, for real – see?!

img_7363House lights on: final goodbye before the confetti cannons exploded.

On our way out, we made sure to pass Richard and thank him for – well, for making it the best concert imaginable. I have no idea what prompted him to do everything in his power to give us such an unbelievable night, but I am ridiculously grateful and awed that he did.

Although the girls managed to fall asleep almost as soon as their heads hit their pillows, I was up for at least three more hours, running on adrenaline and shock and kettle corn. Had that really happened? The notebook? Finally hearing Adele in person? Being escorted to the front? It seemed impossible… and yet, there it was. Videos and photos on my phone, confetti in my purse, smile plastered to my face.

The girls’ concert bar has now been set so high, they’ll likely never even glimpse it again. But that’s okay. For one night, we really had it all.

* this was actually two weekends ago, but life got in the way and so… here we are

Speed

I had a moment on the playground today.

I volunteer as a helper a couple of times a month and this morning, as I watched the second graders run by in their half-constructed Halloween costumes (their parade was this afternoon), it was as though I was actually seeing one of those uber-fast time-lapse sequences that are shown in movies whenever the director wants to particularly toy with your emotions.

And I saw Ella in her costume in second grade – and kindergarten and first and third and fourth – but, like, actually SAW her in my mind’s eye, tromping confidently in the Halloween parade. Glowing Skeleton! * change scene * Maleficent! * change scene * Snow Queen! * Ice Witch! * Bellatrix! *

They flew by in an instant, melding into one another in a faded blur. And then, in my head, I heard the voice of our neighbor – one of Ella’s closest friends – telling me how excited she is for Halloween but how bummed she is, now that she’s in sixth grade, that her school no longer has a costume parade.

The realization hit me with actual force. I felt it, somewhere deep in my stomach and my chest: This is Ella’s last Halloween parade. This is the last year that I’ll see her stroll by with her friends, laughing with her teachers. The last year I’ll hug her each month as she runs across the playground to join her friends. The last time I’ll be able to volunteer in her classroom, get to know her teachers, drop by just to see how things are doing.

She will be in a new school, middle school, navigating it on her own. We’ll know what she wants us to know and will see what she brings home, but beyond that, we will be largely in the dark; the window I now have into her days at school will become a door, maybe even a wall. Which is exactly how it’s supposed to go, this Growing Up and Maturing thing.

But somehow, in that moment on the playground, watching the little ones squeal and climb, remembering how Ella used to do the same but now would rather just talk with her friends than play, these past five years came barreling into me so hard and fast, I had to collect myself before I could resume my responsibilities.

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Last week, we flew to Las Vegas for my brother’s wedding. It was a wonderful trip but unfortunately, Annie wound up not feeling well in the middle of it. She and Nick headed back to the hotel to rest up before the rehearsal dinner, leaving Ella and me with a few hours to explore part of The Strip. I’d been talking for weeks about bringing the girls to see some of the hotels – the roller coaster at New York New York, the tigers at The Mirage, the Bellagio fountains, the decor of Paris or Caesar’s or The Venetian – and they had responded with mild enthusiasm. Now that my words had become reality, Ella was unconvinced that she would enjoy herself; perhaps it would be more fun back at the pool.

Seeing as how I didn’t want to drag her from hotel to hotel if she wasn’t into it, leaving both of us miserable, I searched for the right way to phrase it so that maybe she’d acquiesce. It didn’t take long for me to find the perfect olive branch: “How about we go shopping?”

My girl loooooves to shop. Not necessarily to buy things (although she likes that, too), but just to look, to see, to hold trinkets up close and examine how they work, to pick up clothes and feel how the fabric falls between her fingers. And so we window shopped, marveling at the French-inspired “streets” in Paris, devouring a banana and Nutella crepe, looking with awe and horror at the absurdly high-end shops at Caesar’s.

I’d asked an employee when the fountains at the Bellagio would be going off, so I positioned us at the water’s edge just moments before the show began. I commented to Ella that everyone had their cameras out; she, in turn, asked for her iPod and began videoing the performance. The fountains were set to Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman’s “Con te Partiro” and they followed the melody accordingly – lightly swaying, gently rising. Ella seemed to be paying attention but not really thinking too much of it.
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Then, the voices came together and the music rose and crested and the fountains soared into the air. I looked over just in time to see Ella’s jaw literally drop. It was comical, really, the absolute stereotype of shock and absolute awe. Her joy and astonishment were practically tangible. I didn’t know what to do for the rest of the show – watch the fountains or watch my girl watch the fountains.
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I know it’s blurry but I don’t care – I was too busy trying to capture her glee to bother to refocus.

I loved every bit of the (less than) five minutes of the show. I loved walking with Ella through the hotels, contemplating which souvenirs were worthwhile, imagining what the rooms were like. I loved strolling The Strip with her, giggling at the ridiculous outfits, admiring the architecture, stopping to take in street performances. We took a cab to the restaurant for the rehearsal dinner, sharing sideways glances about our driver’s cringe-worthy braking. Together, after talking with several employees of the large mall, we figured out where the dinner was being held… and then she was off, visiting with her grandparents, talking with her uncles, checking in on Annie.

But for those few glorious hours, we two took on Vegas. That Ella is old enough now to be a genuine shopping and tourist partner (albeit a short one who thinks heavily bejeweled iPod cases are to die for) is… incredible. I cannot wait to see what her future – and my future with her – holds.
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—————

I know this is all going just as it’s supposed to. She is growing up and I am enjoying it, really and truly. Each age is better than the last; I don’t miss her being little, don’t yearn for the days when shoe-tying was a major affair and there were tantrums thrown because the lunchtime cup wasn’t the right one. I love being able to reason with her, to share a joke, to use sarcasm, to have fascinating and interesting conversations.

It’s just that every now and again something comes along to remind me of the lightning speed at which her Growing Up is happening and I have to deep breathe on the playground and stop the tears so the second graders don’t think something catastrophic has happened near the monkey bars. My friends who’ve done this – whose children are older than mine – tell me it will all be okay. Yes, there will be hard times, times when maybe I will, in fact, long for lunchtime cup tantrums… but it will be good. She’ll just be an older version of the Ella she is now, and our relationship will grow and change to match.

I know this.
But still.

Today was Ella’s last Halloween parade. It was chilly but there was no rain; she was psyched to don her Luna Lovegood (of course) costume, the one that she designed herself, and walk with her friends and teachers, past the hordes of parents. I watched her go and didn’t cry, not even a little.
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But tonight, I’m going to watch her video of the Bellagio fountains just so I can hear her catch her breath in the background. Maybe I’ll even watch it in slo-mo… just to take it in a little bit longer.

It goes by so. damn. fast.
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