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.
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.