The school year has ended and we have officially closed the book on 5th, 4th, 1st grades respectively as well as pre-school all together. We waited out the ballet recital and the baseball tournament, the class parties and teacher gift emails ( x’s 4), and have finally stepped into Summer. I am pecking out these words to the seagulls’ call, from my favorite space on the planet… my favorite town, my favorite building, my favorite balcony, my beach. Exhale. Now, certainly any stranger would appreciate the white sand, the warm Atlantic, the quaint beach town appeal. No one could deny the charm of the old surf shops, seafood shacks, shops full of trinkets, and the mystery of the intercostal waterway that extends this length of the Sunshine State.
It is picturesque. It is a destination for many. But for me, it is also home.
My grandparents bought this very condo almost 45 years ago. I suppose I learned to swim in this pool. My childhood is so connected to this physical space I can’t untangle me from these walls, this sand, those waves. I grew up only an hour from here so, “going to the beach” was always within reach and a great possibility. In high school, my little convertible could drive itself the stretch between. All of my greatest friends have slept within these walls. My husband and I were teenagers falling in love on this patch of sand. The sounds of this building are etched in my memory so strongly that if you dropped me blindfolded into it in the middle of the night, I would know exactly where I was.
Now, I do not live an hour away from this little condo on the shore. Now, we are raising our children 2 flights away from this place. So, once a year, after the exhausting rush that is the school year, I pack my four kiddos up, brave traveling alone, and we land to the squeals of grandparents and grandchildren being reunited. I love that my mom has taught all of my children to swim in this very same pool. I love that they know this stretch as well as I do. They can catch a crab as fast as any native, have no fear to paddle out to a school of dolphin, and can man a kayak up the river to the manatees at the age of 10, They know every burger joint and ice cream shop in town. They will have a bug house full of lizards before you can blink. They love it too and it has become entangled in their childhoods as well.
These weeks though, because they only come around once a year, have become a bit of a measuring stick for me, for them. As we get out the toys and floats and boogie boards from year to year, we can’t help to see how they have grown. Some things never change. I mean, it always comes down to a bucket and a net, doesn’t it? But some things do. The ducky baby bath that we used, the float they used to sit in, the swimmies, the mickey mouse shovel… Now it’s surf shops and legit boogie boards. Now it’s skim boards and cool sunglasses… and a bucket and a net. My heart squeezes with nostalgia, especially as I see toddlers exploring the waves for the first time, as I watch my baby niece with her baby toes in the sand. How are these big, independent, opinionated, beautiful children mine? It’s a weird feeling, not to have any babies. I had them for so long. But, at the same time, the immediacy of what IS makes you forget what was so quickly.
Mammas, remember before you ever got pregnant you wondered how it would feel? Okay, now remember 8 months in how you couldn’t imagine being able to curl up on your stomach to sleep, or how it would feel to be able to hop up from a chair without the clumsiness of a belly? And now, for me, I think it’s so strange I spent 4 years in the “with child” state. Or even a season… 3 weeks into summer, in these glorious days that melt into the ocean, I have no idea what day of the week it is. But a month ago, every moment of my life was ruled by managing the schedules of my family. The shift is so quick and our memory is short. My husband must say once a month, “don’t you wish it were Christmas?” He loves all thing cold, and cozy, and holiday. I think he really just loves to build a fire. (I always say, “No, I do not. Do you know how much work Christmas is?” Which of course he does not.) My kids will say to each other almost everyday of the school year, “Let’s talk about Florida” in their yearning for the freedom of these very days. Seasons….
Here is the thing about seasons… They change. Winter to Spring. Summer to Fall. Babies to toddlers. Kids to teenagers. In my life as well, young married to young mommy. Young mommy to whatever this is right now…. Almost 40 with big(ish) kids. It changes. I guess it just strikes me hardest here… when I think about all the people I have been here. Right here on this balcony, in these rooms, in this sleepy beach town. All the people my parents have been, my grandparents even, my own kids. This is also the second summer I have come home since losing my precious grandmother. It is such an “in your face” reminder that some things really change. Sometimes they are never the same. Sometimes, when you slow down enough to really feel the weight of it makes you catch your breath. It can rock you when you realize that your 11-year-old daughter wears the same size flip-flops that you do, when your 10-year-old son needs 2 cheeseburgers at dinner to fill him up, when your baby assumes he can do everything his big brother can, and he’s right, when no one is there to drink the sherry in the fridge….
So what do we do with the constant reality that time, seasons, moments are pouring through our fingers like the white sand I am looking at today? After all, it’s no surprise. The Bible says:
“What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” James 4:14
“Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.” Psalms 144:4
“For all flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls.” 1 Peter 1:24
“My days are like an evening shadow, I wither away like grass.” 2 Samuel 14:14
“For we are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding.” 1 Chronicles 29:15
And of course, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1
Depressed yet? If our very lives are but a blade of grass, a shadow, a mist, then what is a year, a stage, a season, a childhood? I probably run from it most of the time. The current of life, of today, is so strong I don’t have time to look back. But then there are days like today… this space, this balcony, that bucket and net, and I have to come face to face with it. Are we friends or enemies, time and I? Are you at peace or at odds with her? She is a permanent character in all of our stories. She sits with us at every dinner table, attends every school performance, is a fixture at every game, sleeps beside each of us every night. So what is it? Friend or foe?
This is the question I am wrestling with this morning. Here is what I do know…. I can’t change any of it. There is nothing I can do to stop it, this passage of time, this rush of seasons. I could pretend I was still 20 and dress like it. Tragic for us all. I could treat my kids like they are still babies when they are clearly not, and create an unhealthy, prolonged dependence, or worse, some unnecessary rebellion and bitterness. I could keep having babies and default to the simplicity (and exhaustion) of what I know, what feels safe, but sooner or later everyone but Peter Pan grows up. I could always mourn what was… a flatter tummy and freer days, the biggest parenting decision being whether to let the baby cry it out or not, the security of being every influence in our kids’ lives, another night with my Nannie. I guess it’s okay. We can have a bit of a cry when we pack up the baby bikinis and need reading glasses to order at a restaurant. But then…? Are we just counting the losses instead of the wins? You know, focusing on what we miss rather than what we gain? Are we just looking back instead of forward?
I think we have a bit of a disease in our culture of needing to own things, needing to master and control them. My children currently cannot see a lizard climbing a palm tree without the overwhelming compulsion to catch it. It doesn’t matter if that lizard is across a busy street, outside of the window at a restaurant, or 30 feet in the air. They have to get it. They want to hold it and keep it (and name it). After several years and even more tears they have wisely realized that the lizard (or crab, or caterpillar, and so on….FOREVER) will not survive for more than a day in whatever contraption they have placed it in. Even when we provide it with food (“What does this kind of lizard eat, Mom?”), and water, and safety, it will die. Do you feel it too? Maybe you go to a new place and begin to dream about owning a home there? Maybe you see a pretty dress and have to know where it came from? Maybe you go to a friend’s house and feel pangs of wanting to possess it yourself? We haven’t learned the beauty of being able to appreciate the beauty of things without the need to own it, to possess it, to control it, to call it ours… Time cannot be owned. We have to enjoy these seasons with open hands or we will learn with many tears as well that we can kill the magic by holding them too tight.
Let me tell you what I did not pack on this trip home… one stinking bit of baby gear!!! I mean, can I get an AMEN, Mammas? Not a stroller, or a pack and play, or a diaper, or a bib in sight around here. FREEDOM, y’all!!! Do you know what else? Sometimes the hubs and I go to dinner alone and the only sitter we call is Netflix! Everyone can go to the potty alone, and feed themselves, and “bathtime” now is pretty much, “go take a shower.” Those are wins! And my kids SLEEP! They sleep like champs! They sleep IN! WIN!! They can all swim too. No more nervous “baby chase” around the pool. I CAN SIT IN AN ACTUAL CHAIR!!! WIN! My kids are people, you know? They are humans now, not just needy, cute, (life-sucking) creatures. We can talk. They have ideas and input and experiences that are distinctive to mine. That’s the point, right? That’s a win. My parents are people now too, not just parents, you know? They have a perspective that is valuable, not just tolerated. They are wise, and right, and some of my very best friends. That’s a win. My husband and I may have a few grey hairs starting to show, a few more pounds than our younger selves, less conversations about our dreams and more about kidss’ schedules, but we have a trust and a security together that comes from putting in the hard years and staying. That is what real love looks like and I wouldn’t go back for all the size 2 clothes in the world. It’s a win.
Just like every physical season in nature holds its own beauty, every season in life does as well. Winter’s fires, spring’s beginnings, summer’s lazy days, fall’s anticipation… It’s there if we look. It really is always a beautiful season. I know one day I will sit on this very balcony and think how little they were now. I know I will look back on pictures of myself, my husband, my folks this summer and think how young we all looked. Time will keep on passing and I will have to keep letting go of who I am today, who they all are today, and welcome who we will be tomorrow. I have to trust that it will be beautiful in its own way and with every loss there is a win. We really don’t have a choice? And maybe, we do. It’s all in our attitude, in our focus. It always is. So, in this #summerofsayingyes, if you have a day like I am having today, and all of a sudden it hits you hard and you miss your babies, or your Nannie, or your younger (cuter, skinnier) self, sit with it for a second. Feel it. Cry if you need to. And then concentrate on the “win column.” Look for the beauty of THIS season and then grab a bucket and a net and enjoy.