Holiday Weekend: Outlaw Mama’s Dark Thoughts About Summer

Yesterday, I had an appointment downtown at 1:30 PM.  Before that, I left my children in the care of S., our nanny, who planned to take the kids to a neighbor’s house so they could splash around in a plastic kiddie pool.  I slathered them with sunscreen and kissed them goodbye.  Twice.

Summer Fun

Summer Fun


Then, before I took the train, I walked by the neighbor’s house three times.  It’s in the opposite direction from the train.  Yes, that was me hiding behind a flowering shrub peering around the neighbor’s house to be sure my children were not left unattended for so much as a nanosecond near the kiddie pool.


I was late to my appointment. 


Good thing it was for therapy, because clearly I need it—this time of year especially.  I have complicated feelings about summertime, and I don’t know how avoid letting them affect my kids, who deserve to enjoy splashing around. 


So, here’s the closest Outlaw Mama comes to a public service announcement. (*No one is paying me for this, though I am willing to set up a PayPal account if you want to send me some money.)  On this holiday weekend, please be careful around water.  This PSA was inspired by an essay I submitted about “summertime.”  I think it was supposed to be about all the joys of summer, but I went in a slightly different direction.  I have included the submission below for your pleasure, because it’s a holiday weekend, and I feel like over-sharing.

Seriously.  Be careful.



When you endure harsh Chicago winters, you are expected to love summertime. The moment the mercury climbs above 50 degrees Fahrenheit, restaurants assemble outdoor dining tables with shady umbrellas and joggers don their special wicking tank tops. Certainly, after countless gray winter days that brought sharp winds that chapped my face and stole my breath,  the sunny envelope of a summer day is a welcome reprieve.  It’s a sacrilege not to worship at summer’s bountiful alter.

And I am summer’s chief infidel.

A long time ago, before I had language or cognition to process tragedy of any kind, I was a young girl standing on a beach on July 3. I was wearing an Ocean Pacific one-piece bathing suit, and I had sunscreen spread unevenly on my awkward, adolescent limbs.  There was an accident right in front of me that day, and someone dear didn’t make it out of the water alive.

As an adult, I attempt, every summer, to concentrate on the Cubs games, the ice cream truck in our neighborhood, and my children’s flushed faces as they run through the twilight with our neighbors while trying to make their Popsicles last.  I savor the salty taste of their cheeks when I kiss them in the heat of the day.

There is so much to love about summer.

But, deep in my cells I still feel the warm air as a threat. The hotness feels sinister every year.  No matter how much I protest during our long winter weeks about gloves and coats and all the maddening gear required to survive a 5-minute wait on the train platform in January, I can’t match my hatred of winter with an adoration of summer.

I never tell anyone why I am gravely wary of summer’s riches.

And, yet, there are moments when I get a sweet, fleeting reprieve from the memories of loss. They never occur near a swimming pool or any other body of water.  But I have them.  Sometimes, I can put my freshly bathed babies to bed—their  windows open so that balmy breezes and  the voices of older children can waft in as part of our lullaby—and I can feel their little beings as yet untouched by loss. I can wade into the aura of their innocence and breathe deeply in gratitude that everyone is safe tonight.

But summer will never be an uncomplicated bliss for me.  As we plan the season’s cook-outs and eagerly anticipate adding ripe peaches and cherries to our ice cream, I breathe and remind myself that there is plenty of time each day to celebrate, remember, mourn and transcend, no matter what the season.  I pray to continue to add glorious, life-filled summer memories  to shine light on the memories from the summer of darkness decades ago.


9 thoughts on “Holiday Weekend: Outlaw Mama’s Dark Thoughts About Summer

  1. This is beautiful and a must read. I will heed your warning. For different reasons, I also have mixed emotions about summer and often feel pressure to be enjoying outdoor activities more than I do. Bike riding is my specific trigger; surprisingly (hah) I managed to marry an avid cyclist and am raising one. Maybe this summer I’ll learn to breathe again … thanks for the moving PSA.

    • Yes. The pressure is the worst. Get to the beach! Go get frosty beverages! Go get some sun!

      Too much, even without memories!

      Shall we go on a bike ride together and discuss!

  2. So beautifully said. Yes, we learn harsh lessons from tragedy and it feels impossible to get out from under them sometimes. That said, there’s a lot to be said for enjoying an air conditioned house during the summer, too.

    • Yes! Like right now. I am listening to Jeff and the kids playing in Simon’s room. Michael Jackson is blaring “The Way You Make Me Feel.” It’s sweet as can be. I would like more of this– moment by moment. And the AC is blaring!

  3. I like a nice air conditioned house with a book. Or a few episodes of Downton Abby. Or Big Bang Theory.

    My trigger is camping. Who the hell wants to sleep outside when they have a perfectly good bed with air conditioning, no bugs and an attached bathroom. My in-laws have a camper and use it every weekend, and invite us every single week. (I do not go) AAUUGGHHH!!!

    • For camping, I say Hell to the No. The bugs. The sleeping on dirt. THe heat. The boredom. My husband has great memories from camping, but I just can’t get excited about it. At All. Thank god blogging is an indoor sport.

  4. I have no post in me this morning so I am spending my free daughter is napping and son is at school time catching up on yours. How do you do that? How do you switch gears like this? Wait, let me back up and say beautiful post. I don’t even need to know exactly what happened to feel the depths of your sorrow.

    And then the next day you write a post that makes me CRY with laughter. You rock.

    I also desperately want to vote for you on skinny scoop but I am raging against Facebook. Can’t you just join Top Mommy Blogs? No sign in required! I would vote for you daily.

    • Oh, that’s so funny. Jeff has spent hours trying to hook up the freaking skinny scoop thing…and i am a little scared of the name “Skinny” has some not-great connotations for me. I will work on the one you suggest. As for switching gears, my head does it all day long and it’s probably something I should medicate. Or maybe laud. How great do I take an affirmation? Gotta work on that.

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