This was the Summer Dad Died, and it’s over.

Tomorrow school starts and no matter the official calendar, summer is over. It wasn’t the best summer for me, for my siblings, my mom, my family. Not by a long shot. Not in the vicinity of any kind of long shot.

But summer happened, and I have four kids, and despite the awfulness that will forever mark this summer,  I hope I gave the kids loads of happy memories during this summer they’ll always remember as the summer Pop Died. Forever they will remember Pop Died and This is Where I Was and What I Did. And all of that will be part of their process, part of their childhood, part of what defines them, in even a small way. As is should be, I’m told.

They loved their Pop so much. Oh, my god. They did. They haven’t yet begun to realize how much they love him and how much they’ll miss him. And holy cow, how will I be able to help them figure that out?

After it happened, I wanted so much to give them a regular summer, to be a mom who finished her work and did fun things instead of sludging from a puddle of grief to do something other than let the kids watch yet another marathon session of Psych episodes.

I think I did. At the best I got the kids out of the house for a few hours of swimming every day. We played some games. We went places. We hugged a lot. We all did our own thing sometimes. There might have been some random dancing. I only cried from time to time. Alright, a bit more than that.

My own memories of summer with growing up my family  have inspired me every day this painful season — if nothing else, I have remembered to smile and be grateful. Because that’s what summer means to me. Almost all of the best memories of my life are in the summer, and almost all of those memories involve my family.

The pain of losing Daddy is still raw. He loved every season for what each offered, but wow, how he loved summer (OMG, he was Olaf before Olaf was Olaf! But, not really, I guess.)

And he loved family. And since June 24 I’ve just spent time looking around and saying, dang. Daddy. This has been one fantastic summer. Not hot, not humid, an odd patch of weather for lower New England in the summer. Warm, brilliant sunshine, cool nights, perfect winds.

Then I realized — August has been exactly the kind of weather we enjoyed all of those summers in Mt. Lakes.  Which is a whole different post, I suppose. But, there it is.

Daddy, I’d like to say right now, school starts tomorrow. Mitzi is starting 7th grade and Cooper is entering 6th, both at the brand-new middle school Ray’s worked so hard at making a reality all these years. Ellie is already in love with her 4th grade class, and Joanna can’t wait to show off her ten-inches-shorter-hair PLUS her new cartwheels.

Me? I’m going to spend a couple of very early hours getting five people where they need to be. Then I’m going to take a shower, do some client work, revise some PBs (you’d like this one, I think, with all the puns and wacky sense of humor), and yes, I might take a nap, read a book, go for a run too. Well, maybe not a run, but perhaps a walk or maybe I’ll dust off my yoga mat. Or jut ride my bike around the block.

I’ll call Mom to check in, as it’s been a few days.

Daddy, how I wish you were here. I’d like to think that you’re “here” in the swirling netherworld of passed-on-ed-ness, and that’s good. Beautiful, even. I’m glad you’re at peace — I believe you are, because out of anyone I ever knew, peace is something you have earned, finally, and I have to believe that if peace is to be found, you’re right there.

But I miss you. I am not satisfied with the spiritual. I long for the tangible, not the ethereal. I wish you were here. Every day, for this whole perfectly beautiful summer, I have wished you were here. To see the kids’ backflips, the hands-free biking, to read the stories written, to listen to the newly crafted jokes. To witness the cousin love when we all get together, to watch the bonds forged, to see the miracle of ties knotted. To allow yourself to know, for real, that you had a very, very large part in the miracle unfolding before your eyes, that whatever else you think you didn’t do all that well, THIS happened.  To remind you to relish in the immense family you helped to build.

Aw, Daddy. I’m a writer. All of that is true. But mostly the whole point of all of this is — I wish you were here because I would sure like a hug. Or just to hold your hand for one more nanosecond. I wasn’t ready to let you go. I’m still not.

Daddy, I just miss you so much.

And holy cow, I bet you’d love to see those backflips at the pool.

 

Crazy. Stupid. Freelance. Love.

Wow, A Mom’s World is sure full of crickets lately. (Much like my inbox from recent subs, but that’s a whole other post.)

But it’s been a crazy busy time for me since I last checked in. I spent a week or so as guest editor for the Hingham Patch. My former duties as community board moderator for boston.com changed into a new position altogether — I’m now the events editor for the site’s new parenting blog, Parent Buzz. It’s a fun (though more time-consuming) gig, as I get to stay on top of cool and fun family activities in the Boston area. I’ve also been keeping busy with my regular posts at besuretotest.com, a site for diabetics and their families (you can find my work on the parenting blog section of the site). I’ve also tried to keep up with my other freelancing aspirations, and will be having an essay in the September edition of FamilyFun Magazine.

Something had to give, and sadly, this month, it was this little blog here. Because after a morning of work that sometimes dribbled over into the afternoon, I still had a house full of kids eager to do something fun. I mean, I could only let them get zombified in front of the TV or Wii for so many hours…..

Luckily, my Patch job allowed me to take the kids along much of the time (ice cream and photo shoot!). And we’ve spent a lot of days getting reacquainted with the outdoor pool at a nearby YMCA. Cooper started summer baseball and Mitzi is doing a summer pickup basketball group. We treated ourselves to a day out in Boston to take advantage of the free admission at the Children’s Museum, and have discovered many new books at the library.

And speaking of which, I am so excited to share with you a great new novel I read last week. But another day. Believe me, it’s one you want to hear about. And I’m hoping to do a better job at sharing my thoughts on books I’ve loved, new and old, in future posts.

Oh, and my own novel? Sadly, it too has taken a backseat with all this lovely freelance work and super summer family fun. But I think of it often and sometimes even jot down those thoughts, so when the whirlwind subsides I’ll be ready to give it the attention it deserves.

Time to get the kids ready for their afternoon at police camp — and, yes, I’ll tell you all about it. Tomorrow.

Summer vacation: Day One

Summer vacation, day two. I won’t count last Friday because I think we were all too hungover from the last day of school extravaganza to do anything. And, in the interest of hygiene, I spent the weekend cleaning the house. (Whew. Long overdue.) So I guess yesterday was our first official day of nothingness.

I got up early and did some work for my gig at the Parent Buzz blog on boston.com. Then, also in the interest of getting done what is painful and you just want to get it out of the way, I dutifully headed over to my annual girl exam. Enough said. By the time I’d gotten home, Ray was camped out on the computer to do his work, so I took the kids to play tennis for a couple ofhours. We had a late lunch, Ray headed into the city for a few hours, Mitzi went to a friend’s house, and the other kids headed to the backyard to do whatever it is they do out there when I’m not glancing out the window.

And while I did re-mop the kitchen floor and vacuum the living room rug, that was the extent of my chores. (Some day I’ll get the hang of the domestic thing). Mitzi stayed at her friend’s for dinner, the other kids showered, I fed them. Ray went to a school committee meeting and I had some wine. There was a game of Sorry, some brownies, then bed.

The first day of summer vacation nothing gets an A+.

I can’t wait to see what today brings!

 

This is the summer of nothing….and everything

It’s the last day of school today!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I couldn’t be happier. The kids will get on the bus in 15 minutes and get off at a friend’s stop for a neighborhood pizza party. Then summer begins.

I’m so looking forward to slowing down, to not having to rush here and there and grab meals on the go. Not having to harangue the kids about homework and projects and practicing their instruments. To not having to get up by 5:30 a.m. just to try to shower before everyone else gets up.

Lots of other moms have asked me in the past couple of weeks about our summer plans. “Nothing,” I answer, trying not to smile.

This summer I want to play. I want to take the kids on hikes through our local parks and make day trips into Boston to walk the Freedom Trail or picnic in the Public Garden. I want to swim in pools and lakes and the ocean. I want to play every board game we own. Twice. I want to stay up late and catch fireflies and sleep late the next day. I want to build forts in the living room  with pillows and blankets, and cuddle with the kids under the fabric, peering out to watch a movie. I want to borrow and read 500 books from the library.

My kids will probably wish they were going to rec camp with their friends, and maybe they will, for a couple of weeks. Maybe. I haven’t signed anyone up for anything yet, so maybe there’s no space left. I sort of don’t care.

Life gets faster every day you are alive. Mitzi is going to fifth grade next year, and that will zip by, then she’ll be in middle school, then, in an eyeblink, heading off to college. Their childhood is pooling in front of me right now and I want to float in every second of it before it is gone, water through my cupped palm.

This is the slowdown summer, the take-it-easy summer, the get-to-know-each-other-again summer.

It starts in eight minutes, and I am counting every second down.

I can’t wait to get started doing nothing — and everything.

Tick, tick, tick…..

Playing for fun — not for runs

Last week, Cooper spent an early weekend morning trying out for a summer baseball league. Depending on his performance that day, he would be drafted to play either the local team (“sandlot”) or the travel team (“self-explanatory”). My Cooper loves him some baseball — but, mostly, he loves to play ball with his friends. He didn’t seem to care where he ended up, so long as his buddies were by his side.

Come to find out, he was picked for the competitive travel team, but most of his friends got into the Sandlot league. So Ray and I gave him the choice — it’s summer, after all. He’s nine years old. The point of playing is to have fun. Did he want weeks of on-the-road playing-to-win competition? Or in-town games? If he wanted the challenge, we were on board. If he  wanted casual games with local friends, well, that was awesome too. We left it entirely up to him. After a few hours of consideration, brows furrowed in serious thought about what he wanted — to play to win, to play to laugh — he let us know. “I want to be with my friends,” he said. “I just want to have fun.” Sandlot it was.

Secretly, I’m glad. I know that my kid has a natural athleticism and affinity for sports, and while I recognize that he’s not a nine-year-old phenom, I’m not surprised that he often gets picked toward the top. It makes me proud to see him perform effortlessly, and a little part of me wants to encourage him to challenge himself, to be better, to excel, to tap into that inherent potential I see buzzing through his entire body.  But, at the end of the day, I don’t care about that. Because for me, sports is about fun, not competition. Yes, I understand that at some point you play to win, but, being me, a sort of granola-munching, Kumbaya-singing Mom, I just want everyone to play. Play. As in, be joyful. Smile. Cheer. Whoop-holla-woot!

Whatever the score.

That’s why I am so glad that Ray coaches. Even though sometimes I get a little nuts watching, I know his heart is always — and first — with the boys. Both he and our team’s other coach each take his role seriously enough to help the team improve their skills and understand the game, but always, always, playing is about having a good time. And even though it seems that, around here, draft season is a big deal for a lot of coaches, when Ray picked the team, he not only chose boys with strong skills, he also chose boys who were friends. Kids who would enjoy playing together. Boys who hung out with each other in their free time — even if their abilities are not on the same level as some of the others.

I think he chose very, very well.

We’re nearing the end of baseball season. Last night our little purple-wearing team played a great game — their opponents were a fairly even match for us, and all the kids did well, even if, in the end, our team lost by one run.  I could see the improvement from a couple of months ago, the solid hits and the well-executed fielding, the way that all the boys are starting to remember where the play is without being reminded, and working together to get the job done. Best of all was seeing the giant grins on the faces of boys who, for the first time this season, got a few RBIs or remembered to throw to the cutoff man or touched home plate.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to win, and nothing wrong with being exuberant and proud when you do. But those smiles, that pride, that unabashed joy — that is what sports ought to be about, not the scores or standings. There’s a reason it’s called “a game.”

If only we could figure out how to help kids to hang on to that feeling.

Coaches?

For this swimmer, lack of pool is no wash

I love the water.  I always have.  When I was little, I was the kid who put on a bathing suit at 8 a.m. and stayed in it until bedtime.  First, it was splashing in the backyard blow-up pool or at my grandparents’ lake.  Later, it was at our summer house in New Hampshire, where small twin lakes graced our backyard.  As a teen, instead of walking or riding my bike, I’d swim from home to my job as a lifeguard.  Not faster, but surely more fun.

Swimming defined my summer days as much as anything, well into my 20s, as I continued lifeguarding at lakes, beaches, and pools.  I always dreamed of the day I’d have a luscious backyard pool, not only for myself, but also for the kids I hoped to have when I married.

Today our pool is still a blowup one.  Neighbors to the left and right have real pools, and we’re lucky to get invited to enjoy a swim from time to time.   On the days we don’t, my kids eye the fences longingly, unsatisfied with their own little play space.  I know how they feel.

And yet, part of me is very glad.

Last month in Massachustts, two sets of twin girls died, within weeks of each other, in their family pools.   In both cases, the toddlers wandered away from supervising eyes and bypassed safety fences.

Every year, 300 children under the age of 5 drown in pools.  Older kids are at as much risk, even if they know how to swim.

Drowning happens quickly, and it’s almost always quiet (no thrashing about for help like in a movie).  It just doesn’t look like drowning.

All of my kids but the youngest can swim on their own, some better than others.  Ellie is most reckless, leaping into the water with abandon, just like her mother did.  She also prefers a bathing suit during summer days, just in case the opportunity for a swim arises.

She scares me.  At age five, she is also the one who listens the least.  It’s not hard to imagine her sneaking over to the neighbors’ yard, deftly bypassing security measures (she’s awfully smart, too), and helping herself.  Some days I’d like to put a bell around her neck so I always know where she is.

I remind them repeatedly about water safety rules, admonishing them that a person can drown in just a few inches of water.  Like always, it’s hard to tell what they hear.  Still, I remind them, daily.

When they gripe about the pool situation, I shrug.  I’d love a pool of my own.  But maybe not until they’ve all moved out.