There’s just something about long, hot days pressing into cool, dark mornings. Sleepy heads roll over for just a few more minutes of shut-eye. Our bodies are allowed the slow start that the day brings without having to keep time to the coffee pot chimes, the alarm bell dings, and the car-lock clicks.
There’s just something about summer.
It’s the last-day-of-school bell that sends us flying off the diving board. We splash into days of floating under the sun and listing in the wind. The feeling never leaves us—it’s as if we can taste the salt and chlorine on our dry, sun-chapped lips long after the leaves have settled in the fall.
When we were children, summer marked an in-between, a season of growth spurts and voice changes in preparation for first-day-of-school shocks. Now, as parents, with full-time jobs and full-time dependents, summer slowly emerges from spring and melts into fall, the daily rhythms independent of the rising temperatures. We wake and sleep at the same times, we wipe noses and feed hungry mouths, we push paper and take messages, we vacuum and mop and wash dishes.
Last summer I waded in and out of shallow pools, soaking my puffed up feet and ankles, carefully balancing my rounded body that was nine months full. My hands held onto my little girl’s; she was almost one and hadn’t yet learned to walk. Sweat was constantly on my brow, but we stayed, both of us finding relief among the puddles and fountains. Me, respite from the heat, and her, reprieve from a sedentary and swollen playmate. It became our ritual out of necessity and joy.
I remember clearly my first “non-summer” summer. Before entering the world of nine-to-fives, summer meant freedom, but this change was as cold and shocking as the first dip of the year. I came home one day in June from working in the hospital on my feet all day, and I lay on the couch and cried. There were dishes in the sink just out of view and piles of laundry at my feet that I couldn’t avoid. It felt like the death of my youth had solidified in those moments that I was missing out on a carefree summer.
Now, the observance of summer is just a prayer under my breath while I watch my daughter revel in its rite. Even as a toddler, she knows the relief the cool water brings her hot skin. Her eyes light up every time she splashes and she winces as the water hits her in the face, but she keeps going back for more. More water, more time playing outside, more ice cream and snow cones because “Mommy wants one too.”
It’s easy to want to abandon these ceremonies to prevent messes and extra baths and nighttime sugar highs. As a child, these practices are pure delight, but as we age we shirk away from the often hard and tedious results of these activities, as if age causes us to forget the liturgy we once embraced.
Yet somehow we still know. Our hearts flutter at the thought of warm breezes off the water and a kiss stolen as the sun sets behind the dock. Our tongues tingle with the ice-cold tang of a snow cone, and we can’t quite keep up with the scorching heat that causes the sticky juice to run down our hand and arm. Our eyes squint under the bright day as we watch our kids swing high, blocking out the sun with each up, up, and away.
Even now, I find myself preparing for its ceremonious start. Bowing to the things remembered, I clear my closet of coats, drop an extra razor in the shopping cart, browse online catalogues for new swimsuits and sundresses that remind me I need to renew my gym membership. I scour the web for deals on flights to destinations that promise a renewal of vows, which are in danger of losing their sanctity.
And then I look away from my phone and I see her. She’s immune to the hustle of life, unaware of the rhythms that dictate my habits. She is captivated by a stick, drawing lines in the dirt. Her soft, blonde curls fall delicately past her eyebrows furrowed in deep concentration. I study her as her eyes travel so many places, providing me with windows into her thoughts and emotions as they rise and fall. Dirt has crept its way under her nails, into her shoes, onto her shirt, and into her hair. Her knees are scraped and scuffed, evidence of her desire to press into her play unashamedly and without reserve. She is lost in the liturgy that knows no boundaries of time or space.
She looks up and catches my stare. The corners of her mouth turn up ever so slightly as she gazes at my round form sitting stoically in a lawn chair, distanced from her place in the dirt. I remember being like her, cherishing the long days filled with the optional, leaving no room for the required. I long to leave a similar legacy, one that is void of the pressures of schedules and a hurried spirit.
“Mama,” she says, and she points emphatically to a spot inches away from her on the ground. I smile and start to shake my head, because I’m tired, because I’m hot and sticky, because I just saw an ant crawling there on the ground, because I’m…an adult.
But my whispered prayer has caught the corner of a hymn I used to sing and is pulling it out of the recesses of my mind. The song of summer gently plays as I slowly rise and kneel beside her, forgetting the sanctimony of the present and relishing in the sacred past.