Tell me about your summer. Does summer feel like a different season for people who don’t have children, and/or for people who work throughout the season? Our lives are disrupted by the school schedule, and since I’ve had at least one child in school since 1997 (and since I only stopped being a part of that schedule as a student in 1989), the flow school vs. summer life has dictated my world pretty much as long as I can remember. I’ll be forty soon. You probably won’t believe me when I say I have no attachment to that. I used to, and it wasn’t how you’d think: I just couldn’t wait to not be in my 30′s. When you’ve been a fuck up as long as I have, getting out of certain decades is a positive. And when you’re suicidal as often as I am, ticking off years is also a positive.
So, forty. I don’t care about milestones, so this isn’t one, except that I’d planned to be in “the best shape of my life” by the time I was forty. Here’s a consolation prize: I read some books this summer that changed the way I view the world. I don’t wish myself dead on every falling star anymore.
Instead, we go to the beach. I’m reckless. Sand makes its way into the important parts of my camera. I stand, stupidly, holding my extremely expensive camera, in murky, dangerous brown water and teach my daughter what little I know about surfing. She thinks I’m useless. To my daughter, I’m just some old person who doesn’t know anything about anything cool. She knows I don’t like deep water but she doesn’t know why. I’m just some old lady full of irrational fears. (Isn’t it funny, how our kids may never know the people we used to be?) I teach her how to pop up and where to put her feet and she’s shocked to find that I was right, when she watches the surfing videos later. I swallow my anxiety. I scan for sharks and I say “get back out there! Paddle, paddle! You can do it!” when she gets rolled over into the ocean by an angry wave. I say to myself, “life is risky!” one hundred thousand times.
When I most don’t want to, I crawl out of bed and enroll my children in karate camp. It’s only three classes, and the kids are disappointed that they don’t get to the fighting. I try, unsuccessfully, to explain to them about Karate Kid vs. reality. Somehow, I find myself at the movies and then the McDonald’s play place, non-ironically. They have apple slices and free wi-fi. This whole thing is straight out of neuroscience research, I tell myself. It’s neuroplascticity. This is how I convince myself that “act the way you want to feel” isn’t patronizing and trite.
I quit drinking. I haven’t emptied the bar yet. I have a brushed nickel mod IKEA wine rack that stores bottles sideways and looks so beautiful on the back side of the bar, I can’t bear to pull it down. Our Daily Red, Three Sisters. Two Fifths of eco-friendly Vodka fit perfectly in the top two slots. There is a pastel-striped ribbon pulled off someone’s Easter basket wrapped around the neck of a party sized bottle of Beefeater gin, arranged artfully beside my retro frosted martini shaker. I think AA has a word for what I do in my head: this fantasy I have where I can actually taste the oily olive juice saturated mouthful of gin swirling around in my mouth. In my mind I just call it a delicious dream.
We do crafts without reading directions. Our alligators are mutants and our rabbits are creatures from nightmares, with tails made of teeth, flower petal eyes. After we see the movie Brave, we make bows and arrows, which were more fun to make than to use. We paint the linoleum floor on accident, which gives me the perfect opportunity to show Michael that our steam mop really WAS a necessary buy. We largely ignoring the housework, because whatever, it’s summer vacation and well actually we just hate housework. On rainy days we spend hours in front of the Xbox playing Lego Star Wars, having forgiven Avery for erasing our 99% complete saved game.
At this moment, I’m spying on my youngest children through the living room window. They’re following some birds across the yard; they got out of bed five minutes ago. They’re still in pajamas – Jack, in a black Star Wars T-shirt and Christmas underwear, and Avery, a Tinkerbell nightgown. Avery is wearing black patent leather shoes that she bought with her allowance money at the Goodwill last weekend, shoes that I wouldn’t buy for her because they were so impractical. High heels. She wears those shoes every day because she likes the clomp-clomp sound that the heel makes when she steps. “I don’t like to walk on carpet”, she says. I tell her those shoes are dangerous, that she’s not old enough to wear heels yet. “Life is risky!” she says. I tell her the ocean is choppy. We should abandon this lesson and go to shore. “I know you’re scared and you worry, but I’m almost grown. I’m almost eight. Stop holding the leash.” Life is risky.