Summer and What to Do

summer chair at the lakeIt is summer here in the midwest, and like nearly every summer for the last nine years, I’m balancing conflicting impulses: to work as hard as I can in every moment my children’s schedules and propensity for all-day-tv-watching will allow, and to spend as much quality time as possible with my children while they still want to spend time with me.

We’ve had memorably difficult summers, of course, like the summer when Sammi, the sunshine of this blog’s title, began the first and most restrictive phase of her six-food-elimination-diet for eosinophilic esophagitis, and the summer after her aortopexy surgery, when I took her for feeding therapy every week. Those were sunny days with metaphorical thunderstorms always looming.

This summer, though, is as perfect a summer as I can imagine. Everyone is healthy. Both my daughters have just the right amount of independence and connection, and I am writing this from the window of a coffeeshop where Sammi left me on her way to day camp. She’ll pick me up later. I have a full slate of work, a hot latte, and not a single doctor appointment on our calendar for the foreseeable future.

I am marveling at the time I used to reserve for doctor’s appointments, procedures, bizarre cooking experiments for crazy diets, and worrying. This summer, I want to use it to write — not this blog so much as the book I desperately need to finish about this journey — the one that might help a parent having a very different kind of summer, someday. The one that she might read in snatches between procedures, that he might tuck into the diaper bag when he takes his son to the clinic, the one that parents might share at bedtime and underline and note in the margins.

I want to make someone else’s summer easier than mine were. I also want to go to the beach and the farmer’s market with my daughters, watch movies and bake brownies, teach them to snip basil from our plants, ride bikes to the cheap nail spa for pedicures, and save the evenings for time with my husband, too.

I’m going to give all of us this summer. My oldest daughter will be gone in four years. Sammi will be gone in seven.

For the next month or two, I’m going to use this blog space to share some of the essays and stories I’ve published elsewhere. Please visit those sites and look at the work of other writers, too. There are a thousand stories in every family, all compelling, all beautiful.

I’m starting with the first piece I had published online, back in March of 2015. I had long admired Brain, Child Magazine’s artful writing and, as my first submission ever, sent them this experimental essay I’d written while waiting for Sammi’s aortopexy surgery. I had no expectation that it would ever get published. It was an enormous thrill to see it accepted.

What To Do

(Originally published in Brain, Child Magazine March 19, 2015)

Cry, a lot, alone in your car, at intersections, without noticing the teenagers and old people and truck drivers around you, or the people at the corner stomping their feet in the cold and blowing on their hands. With the radio murmuring about wars and genocides and snow plows and someone’s book, someone’s article, someone’s question, you can heave your mother-strong shoulders together toward the steering wheel, clench your jaw and release it, clench and release, open it wide and howl, then when the light turns green, shudder and put your foot on the pedal and go, leaving it back there.

Or cry at your kitchen counter, silently, just a tear or two running down onto your collar, listening to your daughter laughing, and feeling fully and painfully how beautiful it is to give her the gift of not knowing. Wipe the tear from your finger on your pants, stare at the pot with oil sizzling around onions, and don’t see it anymore. The pot is sucked into a hole in the world. The onion smell lingers, but you can’t feed your family a smell. Come back to the world in time for a dinner across from her.

(Continue reading…)

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