when summer comes easy: things i wish i’d known
i was watching butter melt into a bath of milk and sugar and cinnamon when it dawned on me: there is something about this summer that there’s never been before. and it’s not just that the kid i love so much is leaving in less than 60 days, though that’s the thing that’s somehow at the root of it all.
watching butter pool across milk, apparently, is a stirring prompt for early-morning philosophizing, for checking one’s soul, and seizing a revelation or two. what i realized, as i whipped up blueberry bread pudding on a wednesday, no less, whipped it up simply because the kid i love loves bread pudding, loves it best in summer when the season’s rotund little berries the color of night are tossed in with abandon, is that somehow this summer’s defining watch word is easy, as in stripped of all the junk — my junk — that usually gets in the way.
easy as in not worrying. not worrying about the clock, or deadlines, or whether he’s home at the stroke of midnight or half an hour later. easy as in surrendering to the whims of the day, plopping onto the couch, finding his hand at the end of my fingers, wrapping mine around his, and then simply sitting there for enough innings to figure out who’s playing who, and who might be ahead, all the while weaving in the sorts of questions and curiosities that come in the lulls of lazy baseball.
i am, for this one short sweet summer, devoting my days and my nights to simply, softly, loving my kid. savoring every single thing about him. i am relishing as if there’s no tomorrow, because in some ways there isn’t. there really isn’t. except for the way tomorrow affords us the joy — the possibility — of trying all over again. each day another chance to love in the ways we hope and dream and know we can love.
i am, this short sweet summer, sinking deep and certainly into one and only one thing: mothering with all my heart. mothering without getting in my own worrisome way. (and truth truly be told, i’m mothering with all my heart because somewhere along the line it’s the one place in my life where i found my deepest wholest holiness, and i am not wanting to let that go…)
makes me think i sure wish i’d known to be this sort of mother at the other end of this equation, when i was just starting out, a quarter-century-plus ago. i remember how, back in the daze of a newborn living, breathing, squalling, hungry-like-clockwork baby, i armed myself with charts — breastfeeding charts and safety pins moved from bra strap to bra strap, my highly-evolved method for tracking which breast for how long, at what intervals — seeking solace in sharp-angled grids and penciled-in numbers. i steeled myself against the uncertainties and vicissitudes of toddlerhood by worrying about whether we were five minutes late to dump ourselves into the station wagon for the short drive to nursery school — as if someone at the schoolhouse door was doling out demerits — for the mothers who failed to make it on time. the soundtrack of my life was worry upon worry upon worry. no wonder firstborns wind up so crazily cross-wired.
i wish, some time before this very last summer of my very last kid (i know there are only two, and the way i phrase it it sounds like there’ve been a good half dozen), in these countdown weeks before he hauls off to college, i wish i’d realized how lovely it is to be, well, carefree. or as close as i’ll ever come, anyway. (someone once told me i was calm like a swan and after thinking, oh, honey, you sure don’t know me, i shot back, “yea, smooth on the surface, but paddling like heck underneath.”)
truth is, the credit for this newfound way of lazy-being goes to the kid himself. he’s intent on one thing this summer: savoring each and every hour of each and every day. savoring it even when he’s flipping burgers and shaking the baskets of fries for long hours at the short-order grill where he picks up a paycheck. savoring the nights with his toes buried in sand, the moon overhead, and the blankets around him filled with his gaggle of friends. savoring the long drives and deep conversations, the kinds best unspooled from behind the wheel, when two or three pile into the old sedan and clock miles up and down the leafy winding road that hugs the shoreline here in chicago. plopping himself on the bench where i sit at the kitchen table, stretching out his long-and-getting-longer legs, and idly clicking his phone while shooting me the occasional question. his mantra: gotta make the most of this. gotta love this summer.
and so i take my cues from the master. delighted to be tutored in the fine points of taking it slow. in savoring. in tossing aside the occasional heart-jabbing worry.
i am finding the succulence of summer. the succulence of mothering at its juiciest essence. i am letting the soft breeze blow across my bare toes. tossing out the to-do lists and time clocks. and making bread pudding on any old wednesday.
i am learning to summer — to mother — on the very last page of the chapter that ends just before one of us shoves off to college. if only i’d known all along.
how did you learn to savor — be it a season, or simply an hour? or is it something you’re still trying to learn? who have been your most unforgettable teachers, and what are the lessons they’ve taught?
p.s. because i didn’t want it to get lost in the shuffle, i posted yesterday (a rare thursday post) my latest chicago tribune review of a book for the soul, in this case, the glorious christine valters paintner’s dreaming of stones: poems, a glorious volume of which i wrote (in part): “Paintner is fluent in the lush language of earth and sky as well as the otherworldly, the mysterious beyond. Born and raised in New York City, she is old-soul Celtic, through and through. Her poems rise out of the monastic practice of dwelling in silence, and hers, often, is a churchless god. A god who can’t — and won’t — be confined. A god who belongs to any and all.”
For me, it seems as though it is often the losses that teach me to savor; but also simple beauty as well: a rain drop sparkling like a diamond on the hosta; an especially bright star; the wide moon; the sea. And you – not simple by any means – but beautiful through and through.
oh, dear angel. you are so so right about loss teaching to savor. and maybe that’s the way, over time, over years, we learn what we must learn. we lose the ones we love, always before we are ready, sometimes with no warning at all, and if we’re blessed we turn that heartache to keener paying attention, keener savoring. before it’s too late. you and i, and nearly everyone we know, have lost soo soo many. so this savoring thing is real; it means something deep and serious.
and, yes, i am with you on the small beauties, the ones that catch our eye, catch our heart, bring the “telltale tingle of the spine”…..
and in return you teach me to savor, to breathe, to believe…..xoxox
Ohhhh Barbie, this is beautiful!! Teddy sounds like a dream!! Ohhhh I want to know your sweet boys!! You will love this !! Your sweet heart will!! Well this is getting forwarded to AnneReed who is having her first baby, September 12! So your beautiful words and wisdom she is getting upfront!! She is having a little boy, so this is so perfect!! And I like you am treasuring fingers interlocking, though mine are with Parker! He is with us in BC for a summer visit!Your words remind me its ok that we are being cozy and not rushing off to do something!! So your words are heard by this grandmother and soon to be heard by a new expecting mama!!! Hugs and kisses, me xoxo
Sent from my iPhone
oh, dear dear mary, i THRILL whenever i read of a new baby coming, and to read that your beautiful beautiful AnneReed is soon to be a mama of a little boy, well that sends me to the moon. i love when you each down from BC to let me hear your beautiful voice, your beautiful heart. love that parker is hanging with his beloved, blessed grandma. lucky parker. lucky mary.
much love, b.
i love to leave poems at the table. and here’s one from mary O i’ve never seen before today. it weaves right into the conversation here….
What did you notice?
The dew snail;
the low-flying sparrow;
the bat, on the wind, in the dark;
big-chested geese, in the V of sleekest performance;
the soft toad, patient in the hot sand;
the sweet-hungry ants;
the uproar of mice in the empty house;
the tin music of the cricket’s body;
the blouse of the goldenrod.
What did you hear?
The thrush greeting the morning;
the little bluebirds in their hot box;
the salty talk of the wren,
then the deep cup of the hour of silence.
What did you admire?
The oaks, letting down their dark and hairy fruit;
the carrot, rising in its elongated waist;
the onion, sheet after sheet, curved inward to the
pale green wand;
at the end of summer the brassy dust, the almost liquid
beauty of the flowers;
then the ferns, scrawned black by the frost.
What astonished you?
The swallows making their dip and turn over the water.
What would you like to see again?
My dog: her energy and exuberance, her willingness,
her language beyond all nimbleness of tongue, her
recklessness, her loyalty, her sweetness, her
sturdy legs, her curled black lip, her snap.
What was most tender?
Queen Anne’s lace, with its parsnip root;
the everlasting in its bonnets of wool;
the kinks and turns of the tupelo’s body;
the tall, blank banks of sand;
the clam, clamped down.
What was most wonderful?
The sea, and its wide shoulders;
the sea and its triangles;
the sea lying back on its long athlete’s spine.
What did you think was happening?
The green breast of the hummingbird;
the eye of the pond;
the wet face of the lily;
the bright, puckered knee of the broken oak;
the red tulip of the fox’s mouth;
the up-swing, the down-pour, the frayed sleeve
of the first snow—
so the gods shake us from our sleep.
~ Mary Oliver ~
(from “What Do We Know”)
BAM, our “girls” were always and continue to be my teachers. And now I’m finding there’s more I’m learning from our grandkids as well! Thank you for your lovely sharing and how we all learn from you too!
oh, dear gracious, i cannot even begin to imagine little punkins to adore, and absorb. blessed you to have twofold teachers now. i know one just took you to paris. ooh lala!
Thinking of you so much as you savor these sweet summer days slipping by… I love the love you and your young graduate have for one another…
I adore that Mary Oliver poem.
Sending love to you, sweet friend… xxx
oh, dear gracious, and returning the love in kind from here at my kitchen table this lovely saturday morning. i hadn’t seen the poem before. it is kind of a perfect “chair” poem. sending love. xoxoxo
may your last saturday in june be sweet and bursting with summer. sort of like a blueberry!