Category Archives: summer

Summer’s end

The cicadas are so loud this time of year. When you go outside in the evening, there’s this almost electronic noise, rising to a crescendo and dying off, almost completely, before it starts again. It’s coming from the trees. A massive choral buzzing sort of chirp, a bit like a windup toy or a pullback car that you just let go.

Before I knew, I thought the noise was crickets, in the grass. But cicadas are not crickets. They’re like giant flying beetles, except you rarely see them fly, you just hear them. It’s the quintessential sound of summer in a hot climate.

If you go down to the lake, you hear the frogs and toads as well as the cicadas. Some of them peep, long or short; some of them have an amazing resonant low-toned twang. It sounds like the string of an electric bass guitar being plucked.

When I go out to the line to bring in the bone-dry washing, tiny crickets hop away from my feet with every step. The fireflies are gone – they’re an early summer thing, and it’s late, late summer now. There’s a shrivelled aloe plant in a plastic pot on my deck. A neighbour child gave it to us for no apparent reason, and I resent plants, so I put it out there and ignored it. It’s finally dying, but it took its time. Next-door’s cat ambles past. Cats are meant to be indoor-only here, but many people ignore that directive, and next-door’s cat spends much of his time lying on our front doorstep or under our cars. We don’t mind.

The air conditioning is working hard in the shops where the knitwear is already in stock. I nearly behaved inappropriately with a cardigan in Old Navy last week, because the smooth, soft wool felt so good against my bare arms. When I walk into the supermarket I’m hit by a waft of fake pumpkin spice, and the Halloween stock is on the shelves. The world is ready for autumn, but the weather hasn’t taken the hint just yet. Tomorrow they’re forecasting record September highs – temperatures in the 90s again.

Summer’s over. I’m ready for socks, and cups of tea that don’t make me sweat. I’d like to accessorize with a scarf again. Be done, summer. Go gracefully. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

orange flower with drooping petals

In all its glory

Nature, consider this a warning. You’re on notice.

I was just thinking the other day that I hadn’t pulled a tick off my children all summer. This is probably because they’ve spent far too much time indoors glued unhealthily to a screen, but there are upsides. As soon as they go outside, bad things happen.

Yesterday, Mabel (who had a great first day of second grade, thankyouverymuch), came to me saying there was something stuck in her hair and to take a look. I parted her locks and saw a wriggly thing that instantly made me drop the hair and recoil with a startled “Ew!” Then I had to coax her back to me so that I could be a bit more adult about the whole thing. There was a large tick attached to the back of her head, wriggling away happily as it embedded its front teeth in her scalp. Delightful.

I removed it with my favourite loop-of-thread technique, without pulling half her hair with it, and, for want of a better plan, imprisoned it in a tupperware container where I hope it has expired for lack of oxygen by now. I could have set it free to roam again, or drowned it in alcohol (waste of good vodka) or put it in a baggie and sent it off to be analyzed, but I’ll probably just wait till it’s dead and put it in the bin. Little fecker.

It wasn’t on her long enough to pass on Lyme disease, because she would have noticed it when she brushed her hair that morning, which I know she did because, see above, first day of school, so it’s fine. Probably. I’ll watch out for fevers. I know all about the Lyme stuff. But ticks are gross.

Also yesterday, Dash woke up looking like he’d been savaged by a particularly angry horde of mosquitoes in the middle of the night. As the day progressed and it seemed to be getting worse instead of better he decided that it might be poison ivy, from when he was helping his friend’s dad with some yardwork at the weekend. Indeed it might.

Today he looks as if adolescence has abruptly descended with a really nasty case of acne on his face and neck. I might have to take him to the doctor tomorrow. I bought some stuff over the counter at vast expense and I even think it was working, but he said it stung too much to give it a second try.

Stupid nature. Safer inside playing Hungry Sharks on his iPad Mini. Sure, it’s melting his brain one cell at a time, but at least he’d be outwardly unscathed. (Also, he learns about sharks.) (No, it’s not educational. Don’t get it for your child. It’s quite gory and rated 12s and he shouldn’t be playing it at all.)

Mabel walking along a green path in the sunshine

Walking to school, surrounded by nature, waiting to pounce

Summer fatigue

Today for about half an hour I put on a cardigan. The air conditioning was pumping full blast (which makes it nice downstairs and still too hot upstairs) and I was a bit tired after an early wake-up call, so I even thought about putting on socks. I had a cup of tea and drank almost all of it. I enjoyed the feeling of the light wool against my bare arms, and thought how nice it will be when it’s autumn and I can do these things for real.

I know this is no comfort to anyone in Ireland, where the summer usually goes by in a blur of weeks when you thought “I’ll do that when it’s summer” until it’s over and the summer weather never arrived, or arrived for two days and disappeared as soon as you had a chance to take advantage of it; but it’s been hot and humid here for several weeks now and the idea of going outside in something other than beating sun and air that doesn’t seem to enter your lungs at all is nothing short of beguiling.

Also, the mosquitoes can feck right off immediately. This year with added foreboding of Zika, which really is something that you can see in dystopian terms as heralding the beginning of the end of the human race, if you feel so inclined, and if you or a loved one might be pregnant. Luckily for me I’m not in that position, so bites are still a mild annoyance more than anything else, but the ominous ads at the supermarket exhorting me to buy lots of repellant are still anxiety-provoking.

Remember my wonderfully enriching summer activity plan? You have my permission to laugh uproariously about it now, because its moment of glory was that day in the car, all in the presentation and about two minutes in the actuality. I did make a spreadsheet, and it was affixed to the fridge until yesterday, blithely ignored by all of us. Yesterday I crumpled it up and threw it away.

What did we learn this summer? Feck all. What did we accomplish? We didn’t kill each other, is that good enough? The kids’ computer skills came on apace, that’s a thing, right? And I read a few books. This one and this one (both very compelling; not the sort of thing I usually read) and now this one and this one (very much the sort of thing I like to read). Our neighbours got a trampoline in their backyard, which was very nice of them, though I’m not sure how they propose to keep my children off it now that they’ve once been invited to partake.

There’s a week left before Mabel goes back to school; a week in which I’m sure we could do lots of excellent things, but we probably won’t. Dash will be hanging out with me (or staying at home) for another two weeks after that, and maybe then he’ll finally do the summer packet he was meant to do over the break, and return to school all edumacated up after all.

We just had a lovely big thunderstorm that cleared out the air, at least for this evening. Maybe all the mosquitoes got zapped by lightning, do you think?

Large cricket on a chain-link fence

Impressive cricket of late summer

 

Everything changes

I already feel like this is going to be the summer when everything changed.

Maybe every summer after this will be one of those summers, or maybe I’ll look back and think “I thought that was change? THIS is change.” But the summers when they were little kids, I think those are over.

One thing is the electronics. We sort of fell into the chasm of electronics without really meaning to, which is of course the worst way to do it. All at once, Dash got his iPad Mini because he had to do something with all that birthday money/tokens, and B invested in a Chromebook for Dash to use for homework and the kids to use for other things so they didn’t keep stealing my computer. And Mabel had already started treating my Kindle Fire like her own personal Minecraft machine, since I hardly use it when we’re at home anyway… it all got away from us a bit.

Their obsession with various games waxes and wanes, and device time can be used for bribery purposes. Dash is proving fairly good at self-regulating with his, too, so it’s not all bad. I suppose. Maybe, like having babies, there’s never a perfect time to introduce electronics. Maybe if you think too hard about it you’ll never be ready. Maybe we’d all like to keep our kids little Luddites forever, since we had to be when we were children – but that’s not going to work, is it? We’re a bit like Pooh and the honey pot with it still – sometimes we’re on top and sometimes the technology is running the show, but we’ll sort it out.

Then there’s swimming. For the past six years, I’ve bought a three-month membership at the pool in June and we’ve trotted down there almost every afternoon of the long hot summers. It’s been a lifesaver. The kids learned to swim not really from sporadic lessons, but just from showing up over and over. The tedium of gathering towels and slathering sunscreen was made up for by some social time at the pool – where we’d almost always meet some friends, without needing to make plans to do so – and a good night’s sleep guaranteed.

So this year I shelled out for summer membership, as usual. We’ve gone to the pool maybe three times since then. Dash has had a vendetta against swimming, for no apparent reason, and though Mabel likes the pool well enough, she’s usually happy at home of an afternoon, not going bonkers and needing to be dragged somewhere. Nothing forces me to muster the energy for a pool run, and Dash would probably stay at home alone anyway, now that he can. Bedtimes are getting later and later. Next year I’ll probably save my money and give someone extra camp time instead.

It will have been the summer of my book, of course. My first book, let’s say, optimistically. I don’t expect instant stardom to ensue, so that they look back and say “Well, of course, that happened before Mom was famous…” but I do want it to be a beginning, not just the end of something. And whether I’m writing more or editing more or have a part-time job next summer, one of those things may well be the case, and then it would have to be camps all round, or at least a lot of boring stay-at-home time for Dash (who doesn’t like camps unless I can find some very cool engineering or rock climbing one, he says).

It might just possibly be the summer Mabel started to read books. She’s reading something called The Chronicles of Wrenly, and it seems to be holding her attention enough that she’ll quite willingly read a chapter or two a day, when I suggest it. (All right, there was a bribe involved to start her off, but even though the Playmobil set is already in transit, she’s going to finish the book. And it’s a series!) I think it’s just managing to hit that sweet spot of interesting enough and easy enough, so that reading isn’t remotely a chore.

But more than those concrete things, it’s definitely been a summer of more autonomy for Dash. He chooses to come with us or stay at home more often now. It’s mostly stay at home, but hey, if I could choose to stay home from the supermarket I probably would. He spends too much time on his iPad one day and then voluntarily keeps away from it for all of the next. So it’s been a summer of me figuring out how to let go, loosening the reins, trusting him, letting him be his own person.

This is Dash’s last summer as an elementary school student. This time next year he’ll be a rising middle-schooler. No wonder things are changing. I can barely keep up.

IMG_3071

Optimism is genetic

My children, they are sometimes so very much my children.

By which I mean, they too know the delight of planning, but sometimes fail on the follow-through.

Today, as we drove to yet another baseball game (but this time a real one, the attendance at which was a fundraiser for the kids’ ones), I regaled them with my notions of What We Will Do This Summer. We’re just at that point where I’ve resigned myself to the fact that it will have to happen, the summer break, and I’ve come up with some ideas for Ways We Can Survive and Maybe Even Improve Ourselves, and it’s too soon for all this to have come crumbling down around my ears, so I’m full of optimism. Ahh, can you hear it? The tiny thrilling trill of undiminished hope, all around.

Here’s my plan, I said to them. We’ll do some exercise, all of us, every day. And we’ll read something, and learn something, and clean something, and make something. And when we’ve done all that, we can have our screens.

And bless their hearts, they barely even balked at the “clean something”, though their ideas ran more towards cleaning windows (fun spray bottles) than the room-tidying I’d been hoping for. They were full of ideas about things that could be made, and learned, and even read. Mabel said “Mummy, can I write out a schedule of what I’m going to do every day at what time, so that I remember to do it?”
“Yes, my dearest,” I said to her, for I am benevolent, indulging her every whim. “You can do that.”
“I don’t want to give up math time to reading, and I want to do an experiment every day,” Dash pointed out, trying to swap some cleaning for some reading, or something.
“We’ll work it out,” I told him. Heaven forfend you lose any math time.

In about three weeks’ time, when we’re all grumbling and grumpy and screen-time has swollen to mammoth proportions and is taking over our lives like a hungry octopus, I will remember this moment of bright, lovely, scholastic optimism in the car.

And how I will laugh, briefly, before Facebook sucks me in again.

Dash and Mabel by the car

Momentarily in accord

Baseball: this summer’s tiny love letter

We are approaching the zenith of Little League baseball season. We might in fact be, right now at at peak baseball. There were four games in six days this week, plus a practice that Dash had to miss. It’s lucky the kids are dedicated, because if you had a child who wasn’t really into the sport, they’d have just sat down and said feck it a while ago now.

Not actually feck it, because Americans don’t say that. This sucks, maybe.

Our Little League field is at the end of a tiny road that looks, from the other end, just like any other road in our suburban idyll. It has an electronic scoreboard that almost always works, two sets of metal bleachers for spectators, and two portapotties that are quite well serviced. There’s a little shed called the Snack Shack, where you can buy freeze pops for a quarter, cans of Coke for a dollar, bubblegum for a dime. They grill burgers and hot dogs too, during games, for a very reasonable price. It’s all manned by the parents of whichever team is deemed “home” for that game (note: all the teams are at home; they just take turns being called the guest), and run by the board of volunteers who oversee the whole league.

Behind the field there are batting cages where the teams can practice, and a basketball court as well. The whole thing is ringed by trees, and right on the other side of the trees the Baltimore-Washington Parkway meets the Beltway with a dull drone and the occasional motorbike’s roar. An eagle soared overhead this morning as the dust kicked up from the gravel and the sand. The sun’s heat soaked into the bleachers and Mabel’s skirt was too short for her to sit on the metal. We went back to the car for a blanket and spread it under the tree where most of the other spectators were already ranged. A couple of other children joined us. We knew them, sort of.

As soon as we get there, every time, Mabel starts badgering me for something from the shack: a freeze pop, a ring pop, a bag of chips, a hot-dog bun, a bottle of water. I make her wait because I know she’ll want something else a minute later: at the end of this inning, I say; when the batting is over; after your brother has had his turn; when somebody scores a run. When it’s half past. Go play on the swings. Find a friend. Don’t sit on me, you’ll just make us both hotter.

Dots appear on the scoreboard, counting strikes and balls, three and you’re out, four for a walk. Wipe the sheet, start again. Top of the second. Bottom of the third. “Good eye”, we say to the batter who knows when not to swing. “Good slice,” we say if the ball glances off the bat, living to fight another day. “Good pitch,” when we’re not batting but fielding, so our pitcher is the one looking for someone to swipe at their balls or miss their strikes. “Hustle!” when he’s nearly tagged out on the way to the plate. “Good hustle” when he runs fast enough.

I learned the lingo from the team dads. They stand at the fence, close to the field, not as far away as we are on the bleachers or under the tree. They are tall, imposing, with deep, molasses voices. One wears a fluorescent jacket, as if he’s working on the roads or riding a bike in the dusk; another is always impeccably natty. They shout directions, exhortations, to their own kids, but they shout encouragement to everyone’s. They know all the names, even when all the players look the same in a uniform and under a helmet. I get to know them by their socks, the length of their trousers, the way they twiddle their bats before they swing. If someone has new socks I’m lost.

The parents are a mixed bunch, and I say that consciously, as one of them. A mix of ethnicities, pretty representative of the neighborhood: more Black than white, not many Asians, a few Hispanics. Pregnant moms supervising tots on the playground while the game goes on; older moms who know the ropes, watching their last-born in Little League while their first plays varsity at high school. Tattooed dads in muscle tees, clean-cut dads in button-down shirts even at the weekend. Dads who are coaches, in team t-shirts and baseball caps. Coaches whose own kids are long past Little League but who keep coming back for “one more season.” Coaches who teach the kids so much more than how to pitch and catch and bat: sportsmanship, being a gracious winner and a good loser, showing up and trying your best even when you’re hot and tired, for no return but the thrill of a good catch even if you lost the game, an RBI though you were caught out yourself, a free soda from the snack shack when it’s all over.

Good game, well done, good game.

Dash at bat

Batter up, today

Last year’s version.

Sunshine

After a record-breakingly wet most of May, summer has arrived on our doorsteps with a thud. (That’s the sound of ladies fainting.)  It’s only 85 or so, but I’m convinced that I can’t possibly survive in such temperatures, that by July I’ll be dead, and that I have nothing to wear. (That last is true, of course. All my t-shirts have sprouted holes.)

School lunches at this point in the year are a half-hearted, last-minute effort, and for some reason the first grader has a project to do (the reason, I’m well aware, is multicultural day, with its PTA-related multicultural dinner, but for the purposes of my argument let’s pretend I don’t know that), which is not something I want to have anything to do with, except that I have to because she’s a first-grader.

I’m eating fruit all of a sudden: cherries, rhubarb, peaches. My next-door neighbour dropped in a bag of freshly-picked strawberries. It’s asparagus time. The farmers’ market has opened again. At this rate we’ll be grilling any minute.

After a long weather-related hiatus (you can’t play when the field is waterlogged), baseball is back on. Spring season part two, we call it.

Sunny little league baseball game with spectators

No-rain baseball

And I’m working. I have actual editing work that pays money, and I’m writing in between times. The new thing, not the old thing, which I’m going to publish as an ebook any second now, just as soon as my cover art is done. I have a website and a Facebook page for it too, so don’t say I didn’t do my own PR – at least as far as I can without being required to talk to real people in real life and say “I wrote a book; please read it.” Because I’m not sure I can do that.

Neither fish nor fowl

 

Mabel by a butterfly bush

Wearing my hat, hunting butterflies.

It’s September, but it’s not autumn yet. One child is back at school, the other is still watching Sesame Street in his pyjamas at 10am.

The air is full of the noise of cicadas and crickets and other late-summer sounds that happen in hot countries. I forget that they’re exotic – the sound of summer holidays in France, and wearing a t-shirt and shorts in the dark. We encounter crickets on the basement steps and by the side door, eager to come in and spend some quality time with us any time the rain starts. They’re hard to live with, though, noisy little feckers. We keep a plastic glass and a postcard on the sideboard for regular eviction purposes.

Homework has started, but evenings playing outside aren’t over with yet. It’s hard to drag just one away, or to make them sit down and concentrate as soon as they get home. We stop at the playground on the way back from school and by the time we get home it’s already time to start on dinner.

It’s so hard to settle down. It’s so hard to go to bed. It’s so hard to get to sleep. It’s so hard to snap into routine when one child is still stuck in summer and the other is halfway to Christmas.

Let’s move on.

Mabel holding a large brown praying mantis.

A praying mantis. Mabel is a fan of bugs, big and small.

Stuck

I keep starting and stopping posts. I have a cold that’s starting but won’t just get here, so I’m stuck with a giant tickle in my throat that turns into a coughing fit that is finally an enormous sneeze but sometimes it just makes me gag instead and then I blow my nose and my ear squeaks. In the middle of the night I lie there thinking that some insidious mould spore from old books has got stuck in my throat and I’m going to die of consumption or a bacterial lung infection any minute now, but mostly I think it’s just a thwarted cold.

Why would I encounter old books, you ask? Because I’m running the PTA used book sale, and my days are currently filled with collecting empty boxes and bags of old books from the neighbourhood and sorting the books into the boxes so that they can be all moved from the school to the festival location on the Friday before Labor Day and then browsed by the people of the neighbourhood who apparently need more books to fill all the gaps they just made on their shelves.

Boxes of books piled up.

A small proportion of the books sorted so far this year.

It’s really quite amazing. Every year I think that the people of our town must be out of books by now, but every year we get thousands of paperback mysteries and hardback self-help volumes and everything else in between, and more than you’d think get sold again at the end of it. It’s a great fundraiser, but it takes a lot of volunteer work.

(I wrote about it last year too.)

Anyway, then I read a blog post by someone whose husband had coughed to death, which didn’t really help my middle-of-the-night notions. (He had had heart surgery. I am unlikely to cough to death of a tickle. Right?) And Mabel’s acting like a banshee which is most probably because she’s starting first grade on Tuesday but could also be because she ingested a mould spore while helping with the books and will also die of galloping consumption any minute now.

So that’s where my end of summer has me. I have grand plans for September, once the sale is over and both kids are at school and I will take over the world. Or at least regain some serenity for myself.

Things my children have recently talked me into


1. Accepting a very large toy dinosaur into the house, unwanted by neighbour child. “For at least a year,” said Mabel, refusing to budge on the matter.

large toy T-Rex watching TV with Mabel and Trixie the slightly smaller dino

2. Financing a lemonade stand. Going to Aldi specifically to buy more lemons. Sorry, lemins.

"leminade" stand

3. Two popsicles in one day. Maybe three. Silly freezer-on-the-bottom fridge.

4. And an ice-cream from IKEA.

5. Being allowed to use a box cutter. (The 9yo only. He’s very handy.)

6. Being allowed to use my camera. Selfie city.

Selfie by Mabel

7. Luminous yellow trainers.

8. Luminous pink trainers.

Mabel with new pink shoes

9. Turning the TV back on. Again.

It’s the end of summer. My defences are weak.