The only summer we get . . .

By Jessie Horney

Hi, my name is Jessie and I am a recovering summer-hater. “Oh, what’s the part you hate most, Jess? The endless sunshine and late nights of twilight warmth? The ice cream cones? The vacations and parties?” I KNOW, ok, I know, summer is everyone’s favorite time of year, and hating it is akin to being unmoved by viral videos of puppies in a field, or whatever. (Spoiler alert: I also don’t like pets. Forgive me, dear readers.)

I’m not going to make a case for all of the other seasons here, although I could. I won’t tell you that winter brings cozy days at home and snapping cold walks under bright December skies, or that spring wakes us up with cheerful tulip faces and the spice of cut grass, or that autumn actually has the best weather, warm all day and cool all night, and also we’re allowed to make pies again once September rolls around… I won’t tell you all that. Because the point of this article is to write something I can tape to my own refrigerator as a reminder to enjoy this summer with my kids, and as a declaration to my own reluctant self that joy is a choice, even when it’s 103 degrees outside and the world is, in fact, a sunny version of my personal itchy hell.

I think part of what makes summer miserable (besides the fact that you can’t go outside after 2 p.m.) is the weight of expectation. I remember when summer invited me to live good and live large. That last school bell rang in June and we sprinted home, gleeful for a three-month holiday. I remember the delight of warm, slow mornings with my siblings, picking raspberries in the backyard for breakfast, reading Calvin and Hobbes in the grass, meeting our cousins at Fairmont pool to swim and buy shaved ice with all the change we rustled up from couch cushions and the jar in the laundry room. Summer was the zenith of childhood.

Then I grew up and worked every summer. And since I worked at day camps, I wasn’t the kid at the pool anymore. I was the harried grownup counting 43 slippery first graders over and over again, hoping to leave with the same number I’d taken. Then I got married and had three kids in three years, which means I spent a lot of summers either largely pregnant and swollen or breastfeeding a newborn under a blanket in the park with sweat pooling in my nursing bra and trickling down my aching back as I tried to hold the baby, the toddlers, and our many, many bags of snacks.

That lifestyle ain’t no ice cold Coca Cola commercial, friends. It is not the funnest days ever. It’s tiny moments of fun tucked into hours of monotony and janitorial work, mopping up spills, wiping bums, and dodging the revolving door of nap times. It’s going to the park for an hour, then home to recover. It’s setting up a little pool out back because you can’t take three babies to the real pool by yourself. It’s staying inside more than any other time of the year, actually, because babies can’t be outside in extreme temps. I was confused about summer, because it felt a lot like winter.

But now my kids are older. And as I gaze into the abyss of a hot, hazy summer with my 3-, 5- and 6-year-old, I resolve to enjoy these precious moments together. I declare all the good news: the girls help apply their own sunscreen (great news, since they’re the ones who really need it and I only put it on my son if other people are watching). No one is nursing. They are all strong enough for long hikes and adventures. They don’t have to nap anymore, but they do fall asleep in the car after a long afternoon of playing, which is a perfect time to quietly park my car in the shade and read by myself while they snooze.

My friend Ryan directs commercials for the Visit Idaho campaign, and his latest is called “18 Summers.” Have you seen it? It’s a beautiful film of a young family enjoying our beautiful state, meant to remind us that we only have 18 summers with our kids; someday they will leave. They’ll spend summer at their jobs, at their college internships, or with their own friends. Basically, not with us. All of these seasons with my family are changing us; time is sneaking in to grow my kids up. This is the only summer I will have with a 3-year-old, a 5-year-old, and a 6-year-old. The only one. Can I absorb that truth and live in the tension of enjoying our (sometimes long) days together while understanding how fast they will disappear?

I will buy the Costco box of popsicles for them and their friends. I will hang little swimsuits to dry every night. I will hunt down missing sandals, rub aloe vera on sunburned shoulders, drive one hour to hike for 45 minutes, and meet my friends at every park in the valley to try every splash pad available. I will soak up my children as we soak in the sun, kissing their freckled cheeks and washing their dirty feet each night before I tuck them in bed, trying to convince them that nighttime is real even when the sun is still up. I will do this because these are their magical summers, the ones of prickly bushes heavy with raspberries and afternoons full of cousins at the pool. And despite itching from the heat and from the million dollars spent on spray sunscreen…I don’t want to miss any of it.

Jessie Horney is a freelance writer and poet. Find her at www.horneymomtellsall.com.

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