As I turned the calendar page to September yesterday, I made a little joke about how it was my favorite month, and my kids reacted predictably with groans of horror and consternation. I told them I was only kidding, but they sulked off to corners of the house to brood as their “free” time period – I count 77 days which is a nice chunk of freedom – is almost over.
When I went upstairs into my son’s room, I noticed that he had turned his Charlie Brown calendar to September. This month features Snoopy, Woodstock, and friends with the caption “Happiness is a new adventure.” I wouldn’t expect Charles M. Schulz to rub salt in my kid’s wounds, but my son had already circled the first day of school in red crayon and gave it an unhappy face. So much for school being a new adventure I guess.
Ah, how bold my kids were back in the middle of June when their school doors closed and they were unleashed to what at the time seemed an endless summer. School clothes were thrown in heaps and out came shorts and tees and flip-flops. They were hanging loose because it was summer time and the living was easy.
That was then but this is now as they say – their sad faces staring at the word September on the calendar no doubt with images of books, an apple for teacher, and the words Back to School dancing in their heads. Reality – cold, ugly, sadistic as it may be – had hit them like a sucker punch.
Of course, I too bought into the myth of endless summers when I was a kid. I was old enough to enjoy The Beach Boys’ classic album Endless Summer when it debuted, listening to all their great songs like “Surfer Girl,” “Surfin’ Safari,” “Catch a Wave,” “I Get Around” and so many more that could be considered anthems for summer. The album seemed to make the listener think that life was not only a beach but that summer could go on forever.
On the morning of the last day of school, I’d crank up Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” and savor every line, most especially the one about school being out forever. Later that day I’d run home with my mind racing as I thought about what I would do first – or even think about doing nothing at all. That was so enticing and exciting – a notion that nothing needed to get done or be handed in or studied.
When I think back on my summers as a kid, I can recall sitting on the porch in the early mornings reading some great books. I didn’t need an airplane to get away someplace when I had stories that could take me all over the globe or even into outer space or under the sea or to the center of the earth. I treasured those mornings with the wind blowing through the windows and my dog resting against my feet.
The rest of my summer days were filled with the swimming, playing baseball, hanging out with my friends, watching Mets games, and my favorite thing – doing nothing at all. I liked sitting on the beach and just watching the waves, the sun and blue sky above, the seagulls swooping toward the water, and the boats way out near the horizon. I can still feel those moments, so peaceful and precious now, and the best thing was it was before cell phones and laptops and the only thing that connected me to the world was a small radio tuned to my favorite rock station.
Like most myths, endless summer has some basis in truth – we yearn for it and it comes; we hope it never ends, yet we know it always will. Alas, my endless summers always faded. My Mom would turn the calendar page just as I do now, and she would circle the box for the first day of school. I guess I thought it was cruel, but she would draw a smiling face there – unlike my son’s sad one. Actually, Mom loved having us home but also was realistic about things as we were not. I wanted to put off third grade forever, but those thoughts quickly faded as I walked through those school doors so sheepishly – the same ones I had dashed out of so happily months before.
Each school year I can understand how my kids feel because I went through it too. There is still a desire in me now to drag out the summer as long as possible – but now it is because they are home and can be with me the way they cannot be during the school year.
Later in the day as we sat down for lunch yesterday, I reminded my kids of the great summer they had this year. We took a wonderful trip to Europe, and before and after that we had days of going to the pool and beach, attending a great Fourth of July party with fireworks, seeing some of the biggest summer movies, and doing what is still one of my favorite things – simply nothing at all.
One of my best memories this summer was laying on our lounges next to the pool letting the day slip away. My son and I just stared up at the clouds and watched them float slowly by. One was a dragon, another a lion, and so on.
Then along came a long thin cloud and my son said, “Doesn’t that look like a pencil, Dad?”
I didn’t mention that perhaps that foreshadowed going back to school, but instead I said, “You know what? I think it looks like a snake.”
He studied it and said, “Yeah, it is a snake,” and then his endless summer continued unabated.
This Tuesday the endless summer myth shatters once again, its shards falling silently into the stuff of memories. We will recall all that we did but, as the hectic schedules of work, school, and after school activities commence, it will be easy to forget that happy time as we become subsumed with being on the clock again.
After I go back to work, I will stop myself at some point in time each week and think about our summer. This year I will smile as I picture us walking through Disneyland Paris with my kids’ faces beaming under Mini and Mickey ears. I will remember the scorching heat as we waited on a long line to meet Darth Vader – the Sith Lord from Star Wars who does not give autographs. I will think about sitting in Notre Dame and seeing the kids stare up at the vaulted ceiling in awe. I will remember the reverence they showed at the American Cemetery in Normandy, and the joy as they ate their gelato in the quaint town of Bayeu. I will remember our time on the beach in Cascais, Portugal, and the cool nights walking through Lisbon as if it were a dream. I will think about our watching the Fourth of July fireworks display, going to the beach, swimming in the pool, and watching great flicks. Most of all, I will remember being on that lounge by the pool with my son using our imaginations to make clouds whatever we wanted them to be.
In this way our summer will be endless in our memories, and there is always next summer to dream about. For now, I’m going to listen to “Surfin’ Safari” and recall those summers of long ago that still play out in my mind as if they were only yesterday, making them endless summers indeed!