Thursday, June 26, 2008

Summer of Growth

Summertime isn’t just about backyard barbeques, beaches, fireflies, sunburns and heat waves that dull the senses and wilt the hair. Summer is also a time of change, especially for and in our children. And, yes: even in ourselves.

Summer is relaxation and introspection; expectation of what is to come in two to three months time. The next season is both a lifetime and a blink away. You want to stay in the day, in the moment, and yet it is nevertheless tempting to sneak a peek at the future; to project both best and worst case scenarios.

Five year olds nervously and excitedly discuss starting kindergarten (“the big school”) perhaps ad nauseum. They will brag about it when your friends ask them if they will, in fact, be a kindergartner in September. They may gloat about it to younger siblings. Your round cheeked daughter or son’s face will morph over July and August into a slightly more mature-looking visage by fall. You, too, will both rejoice over this upcoming milestone, and internally worry about your child’s readiness. And your own: Can I let go? Will I cry? What if, what if, what if?

Fourth and eighth graders – now fifth and ninth-graders-to-be – maybe plan a strategy to reinvent themselves at Saxe or NCHS. Voices will deepen, shoes sizes will enlarge. Your child may begin to attempt to break away even more from your apron strings. Fourteen-year-olds can adopt a new, cockier swagger as they stroll through town or around your summer vacation location. You will find their confidence both breathtaking and staggering.

For those parents whose kids will begin college, the melancholy is often suffocating. You are proud, you are anxious. Your son can’t wait, your daughter already wants to go shopping for her dorm room. They will live their summer to the fullest, all the while trying to push aside feelings of what if, what if, what if. You know that you will miss them, yet you may be ready to reclaim a tiny bit of freedom from doing and driving and coordinating.Your tears are firmly planted behind your eyes and your throat aches from the choking required to keep them at bay.

If your child is attending sleep-away camp for the first time, there is anxiety and fear of the unknown. How empty will the house feel without your son? Will your daughter gain a greater appreciation of all that you do, now that she will be away for a couple of weeks? You drive them to the airport, bravely wave so long, and watch the skies as your heart is strapped into a seat, a bag of stale peanuts on its lap, soaring off across the country for a month. That child will become more confident, be challenged and rise to that occasion. And you will discover that, yes, you can let go; you can survive a separation of time and space.

I’ve put four children on the bus bound for kindergarten, middle and high school. At four a.m. on the morning of July 26, 2001, I stood frozen in our front doorway while Blake hugged me goodbye as he left for Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina; my first child to leave home. I made it through his birthday in August without being with him, the initial birthday of many to come.I found that I was strong enough to live through three days, then three months, without seeing his face or hearing his voice. The experience was brutal and formidable for us both. Yet, it served to show me that I was, in fact, capable. That the inevitable letting go’s with the other three were – and are – doable.

There have been summers where I have conquered fears, not only emotional, but physical and spiritual. Like the summer two years ago, when I paraglided from atop the ski mountain at Jackson Hole (“jumping off the mountain” as I like to refer to it). My daughter was still in camp out there and my husband and son had returned to New Canaan. I was on my own for a week and determined to try some new things; tick off some bucket list items. Afraid of flying and of heights, I nevertheless threw caution to the winds – literally – and flew. When I revealed my feat to my husband and four children, they were duly surprised and impressed. I flew, I grew.

There is something in the air of summertime which causes our kids to reach new heights as well, whether it is emerging taller by August’s end and/or experiencing great pain, great joy, great feats of daring.

Savor the summer and the transformations which are likely to occur. The lazy, hazy days are always full of cool discoveries.

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