Longest road trip ever

Are we nearly there yet?

At the end, I mean. The end of the summer. The time when I can go outside and enjoy breathing real air instead of 99% water vapour. The time when the little darlings skip back into their classrooms of rules and regulations and I get to sit at my kitchen table uninterrupted by demands for toast and peach juice and What Can I Eat and I can put my rusty, summer sodden sponge of a brain to use again. Won’t that be nice?

Or I might just go wild in Starbucks with a large mocha or drive myself to a department store where I can walk around slowly in the cool perfumed air picking things up and putting them down without having to monitor the maniacal whirlings of my offspring in any public area.

I shouldn’t complain because they are now big enough that I have left them both at home and done the grocery shopping on my own several times this summer. It was blissful, until I arrived home to be roundly lambasted for all the vanilla milk and donuts I failed to buy. Apparently now if they come with me they get donuts. I draw the line at bringing donuts home to children who didn’t even get off their bums to accompany their aged P to the supermarket.

But I do complain, because the bigger they get the louder they get, and the farther their limbs stretch when flailing around in small spaces, and the faster they can push a shopping cart into my ankles and the heavier they are when they inadvertently step on my toes. (I remember stepping on my mother’s toes a lot, and my dad getting really annoyed with me on her behalf. I think it must be an adolescent lack of control, less awareness of where your body parts are thing, because Dash has started to do it now, and I am getting my curmuffins, with jam on.)

Call me when it’s September. I’ll just be meditating or something until then.

Two cats asleep in the window
Here are the cats. You’ve missed the cats, haven’t you?
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Reframing for the memories

Here we are, finally galloping towards the finish line as the last week of summer looms and everything goes into fast forward, after the creeping, juddering back-and-forth of the very long break, longer than ever before because this year in their wisdom the county decided to move Back-to-School to after Labor Day instead of the third week of August. Yesterday my Timehop showed me that Mabel had started second grade this time a year ago, that Dash started Kindergarten six years ago, and a myriad of other milestones. Mabel wishes she was already back at school; Dash still has to finish his summer packet so it’s just as well he’s not.

I’ve seen other people’s photos and posts about how it’s been the best summer ever, about all the fun they had and the things they saw and learned and did, and I was feeling a little down about our summer. It wasn’t the greatest ever. It wasn’t fun all the time. It was, perhaps, a summer of too much of too little to do, a summer of fights and arguments, of conflict and boredom and screens and complaining. But then I remembered it’s all about the reframing. Reframing isn’t just how we make our boring lives into enviable blog posts and Facebook updates – it’s how our brains remember things so that our childhoods glow in memory and holidays gain a sheen in hindsight that they didn’t have in the moment. It’s how our brains deal with childbirth. We focus on the good and gloss over the bad. Besides, I don’t take photos of the fights and the whining.

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I know the waves don’t look big here, but the beach shelves dramatically just there

So our almost-week at the beach was … nice. Yesterday I realised that when I think back I won’t really dwell on the things we didn’t do or the times we disagreed, or even the spectacular sunburn I managed to procure because I am the queen of making sure everyone else puts on their sunscreen but I’m a bit blasé about doing my own. I prefer my swim top and my big floppy hat, but sometimes I happen not to be wearing those and … oh well. Sun and me don’t go. You’d think I’d know that by now.

Kids in bumper boats
Genuinely the most fun at the amusement park

So: we had a lovely time. My children were impressively brave (but not foolhardy) in the big waves on the shelving beach. My children were adventurous and tried new things (go-karting, bright red tortilla chips). My children fulfilled long-held ambitions (doughnuts for breakfast every day) and laughed at each other’s jokes till milkshake came out their noses. We walked home in the dark singing variously, simultaneously, songs from Hamilton and hits of the 80s. The people-hating eight-year-old easily made friends on the beach a few times. We saw an eclipse. (Not totality, but about 80%.)

Girl and man looking up at sky wearing eclipse glasses, shadows through trees
Eclipse watching. See the little crescents in the shadows of the leaves? That’s the eclipse.

I did no laundry, the absolute minimum of shopping and cooking, and was forcibly prevented from Facebooking too much because I didn’t have my laptop and I’m terrible at typing without a real keyboard. I sat alone in the serene peace of the screened porch and read a book instead. I drank real coffee and ate too much sugar. It was almost like a holiday, not just the same old thing in a new location – at least some of the time.

beer in sunshine

Now there will be buying and eating of fruit and vegetables, imposing of schedules and picking up of schoolwork, making of appointments and doing of useful things, because we are refreshed, because a change is (almost, maybe) as good as a rest, and because we’re nearly there.

Beach looking back at the sunset
Quiet evening beach

An overdose of imagination

Mabel is done with camps for the summer, but she’s been very productive lately. Her brother favours the constant-screens mode of down-time (until his friends show up to play Nerf wars with), but she really does have a creative itch to scratch. She’s sewing a teddy bear (all her own design; she’s never sewn anything before) and I made her her own (private) blog today. And then there’s this…

Yesterday we found a tiny box in the boxes outside the supermarket and she took it home to make a bedroom for Wukwuk.

Have you met Wukwuk? He’s a duck. He’s been around for a long time, though I’m not exactly sure which baby was a newborn when he showed up. Recently, Mabel pulled him out of the soft toys, decided that she was deeply attached to him, and christened him.

We took Wukwuk into DC a while ago, where he was able to use a special duck ramp into the fountain. (He didn’t want to get wet, though.)

Anyway, Mabel asked me to look after Wukwuk while she readied the box for him, as a surprise. The night before she’d been very sad because Wukwuk didn’t like her any more, but happily they made up the next morning. (Hello, totally unnecessary drama that your child makes for herself at bedtime.)

I had trouble keeping him from jumping up to peek over my screen and see what she was doing, but I managed to hold him back.

When she was done, Wukwuk had a room of his own, complete with wall art, folding desk and magnetically closing front door.

He also has his own mailbox on the outside. “I can’t look in any of these because they’re not for me,” Mabel told me, showing me the letters. Then she took one out. “Oh, this has my name on it. I can open this one. It has tiny writing inside.”

Sweet dreams, Wukwuk. I hope you two have made up for good because I can’t take another bedtime of desolation.

Summer loving

We all know I love a linky, and this one from Fionnuala at Three Sons Later is just perfect for a lazy summertime blogger. What are you loving, what are you not so much loving, this summer? Hop on over to her link and read all the others.

Wait? Where are you going? I mean, after you read this one. Sheesh. Settle down.

Loving

I have a little bit of work-life balance in my summer, for the first time ever. Mabel’s in camp for the month of July, Dash is at home doing a spot of schoolwork and playing with a friend, and I have relative peace and quiet to do some work. And I have some work to do – fixing up draft 3 of book 3 of my trilogy, in between actual paying editing work for other people, which is both enjoyable and interesting. I also could be doing housework and grocery shopping and other more boring things, but it’s nice to have a reason to avoid them.

What’s more, at the end of the month I’m heading off on a five-day jaunt to Italy, to attend my best friend’s wedding. She was my one and only bridesmaid, we’ve been friends since we were seven, I always swore I’d be there, so I’ll just have to, you know, force myself. It’ll be tough, but I’ll grit my teeth and bear it.

I was stuck for dinner a while ago and aired my woes on Facebook, as you do, which yielded a lovely selection of new summer meal ideas from my friends. Since then we’ve enjoyed such delights as this salad (great dressing; I used feta and toasted my almonds a little), this other salad (very tasty, used the rest of the same dressing), and this – yes, more cauliflower – which was very quick and hugely tasty even without any olives or capers.

Less than loving

The weather, of course. They don’t call it the swamp just because of the objectionable politicians, you know. It’s swampy here in the environs of DC. Hot, humid, moist, damp, airless. Even if it’s raining, it’s hot and sweaty. (Though honestly, I prefer it raining. The sun is too shiny and it burns.)

Also, children who are older and don’t go to bed. I mean, I still love the child, but I’m not loving his bedtime. It turns out Dash only goes to bed in a timely manner during the school year because he knows he has to get up in the morning. Now that he’s not doing anything, his bedtime has disappeared, and we spend all evening exhorting him, nay, pleading with him, to just go away. I don’t care if he goes to sleep, but I would like him to at least be in his room so that we have some time to watch crap adult TV on our own before we go to bed. So far, results are mixed. Some nights he’s the last one upstairs. This is going to take some recalibration of expectations, because I suppose it’s not going away.

Definitely not loving

Ticks, mosquitoes, poison ivy, jellyfish… nature, basically, in all its less delightful forms. So far our tick count is minimal (one, on me), the mosquito bites are mounting (mostly on Dash, who scorns bug spray but I wish he wouldn’t), we’ve had two tiny patches of poison ivy, and we managed to dodge the jellies at the beach last week even though the water was too murky to spot them until it would be too late. (The waters of the Chesapeake shore are not the most crystal clear.) Oh, and I got stung on the toe by something I didn’t see when I went outside in bare feet last week. It can only get worse, probably.

Beach view with two rainbow shade umbrellas.
Gratuitous beach photo. This is where we avoided the jellyfish.

Express summer update

It’s not that I don’t love you, it’s just that I keep starting posts and then something in our ever shifting summer dynamic shifts again and I can’t finish them.

So herewith, some bullet points, with photos of times we went outside:

  • I have a new phone, so that small children will no longer remark on how tiny my phone is. It was getting embarassing. My new phone is still an old phone, (Samsung 6s) but it has a good camera and it’s a lot smarter than my old one. There will be Instagram. (But not Snapchat because who do you think I am.)

    Girl on bike, boy on scooter, on path between grass under trees
    A trip to the park! On wheels!
  • What you know by the time you turn 44 is that if you want a nice birthday you are responsible, at least somewhat, for making it nice yourself. So I bribed the children and took them to the beach, which was slightly easier than it had been the week before, so I think they actually like it. I told the husband what I really wanted (the new phone), so I got it. I booked the babysitter for tonight so we can go out to dinner.

    Boy and girl on swings in playground
    A protracted discussion on the swings
  • The summer break began with nothing but screens and fighting, but we are all shaking down into a routine of sorts, where the children are constantly watching something and demanding food, and I spend a while working, a while trying to persuade one or both of them to leave the house with me, and a while wondering why I’m doing all this laundry.

    Boy with giant homemade bow and arrow.
    For about two days Dash was obsessed with making bows and arrows.
  • So far, Mabel is learning Spanish on Duolingo, I’m brushing up on my Italian, we’ve started rewatching the Great British Bakeoff, and Dash has discovered that he does like Minecraft when it’s in survival mode and you can blow things up with lots of TNT. We’ve also moved all the furniture around in Mabel’s bedroom and baked a few things.

    Boy and girl wading at the beach
    Cooperation at the beach
  • The pace is slower, and we’re learning not to freak out about it. We’ve gone to two different beaches. We’ve gone to the pool, but not a lot. We’ve baked fancy biscuits. Some of us have done some reading. Next week Mabel starts camp and everything changes again. We’ll work it out.

    Sandwich biscuits on a blue plate
    Viennese Whirls (not quite up to Mary Berry’s standards but they tasted excellent)
  • The cats continue to cat. They’re very good at it. I feel like I’ve really accomplished something since my last birthday, because now we have cats.

    One cat.
    Exhibit A. Or B.

Summer’s end

The cicadas are so loud this time of year. When you go outside in the evening, there’s this almost electronic noise, rising to a crescendo and dying off, almost completely, before it starts again. It’s coming from the trees. A massive choral buzzing sort of chirp, a bit like a windup toy or a pullback car that you just let go.

Before I knew, I thought the noise was crickets, in the grass. But cicadas are not crickets. They’re like giant flying beetles, except you rarely see them fly, you just hear them. It’s the quintessential sound of summer in a hot climate.

If you go down to the lake, you hear the frogs and toads as well as the cicadas. Some of them peep, long or short; some of them have an amazing resonant low-toned twang. It sounds like the string of an electric bass guitar being plucked.

When I go out to the line to bring in the bone-dry washing, tiny crickets hop away from my feet with every step. The fireflies are gone – they’re an early summer thing, and it’s late, late summer now. There’s a shrivelled aloe plant in a plastic pot on my deck. A neighbour child gave it to us for no apparent reason, and I resent plants, so I put it out there and ignored it. It’s finally dying, but it took its time. Next-door’s cat ambles past. Cats are meant to be indoor-only here, but many people ignore that directive, and next-door’s cat spends much of his time lying on our front doorstep or under our cars. We don’t mind.

The air conditioning is working hard in the shops where the knitwear is already in stock. I nearly behaved inappropriately with a cardigan in Old Navy last week, because the smooth, soft wool felt so good against my bare arms. When I walk into the supermarket I’m hit by a waft of fake pumpkin spice, and the Halloween stock is on the shelves. The world is ready for autumn, but the weather hasn’t taken the hint just yet. Tomorrow they’re forecasting record September highs – temperatures in the 90s again.

Summer’s over. I’m ready for socks, and cups of tea that don’t make me sweat. I’d like to accessorize with a scarf again. Be done, summer. Go gracefully. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

orange flower with drooping petals

In all its glory

Nature, consider this a warning. You’re on notice.

I was just thinking the other day that I hadn’t pulled a tick off my children all summer. This is probably because they’ve spent far too much time indoors glued unhealthily to a screen, but there are upsides. As soon as they go outside, bad things happen.

Yesterday, Mabel (who had a great first day of second grade, thankyouverymuch), came to me saying there was something stuck in her hair and to take a look. I parted her locks and saw a wriggly thing that instantly made me drop the hair and recoil with a startled “Ew!” Then I had to coax her back to me so that I could be a bit more adult about the whole thing. There was a large tick attached to the back of her head, wriggling away happily as it embedded its front teeth in her scalp. Delightful.

I removed it with my favourite loop-of-thread technique, without pulling half her hair with it, and, for want of a better plan, imprisoned it in a tupperware container where I hope it has expired for lack of oxygen by now. I could have set it free to roam again, or drowned it in alcohol (waste of good vodka) or put it in a baggie and sent it off to be analyzed, but I’ll probably just wait till it’s dead and put it in the bin. Little fecker.

It wasn’t on her long enough to pass on Lyme disease, because she would have noticed it when she brushed her hair that morning, which I know she did because, see above, first day of school, so it’s fine. Probably. I’ll watch out for fevers. I know all about the Lyme stuff. But ticks are gross.

Also yesterday, Dash woke up looking like he’d been savaged by a particularly angry horde of mosquitoes in the middle of the night. As the day progressed and it seemed to be getting worse instead of better he decided that it might be poison ivy, from when he was helping his friend’s dad with some yardwork at the weekend. Indeed it might.

Today he looks as if adolescence has abruptly descended with a really nasty case of acne on his face and neck. I might have to take him to the doctor tomorrow. I bought some stuff over the counter at vast expense and I even think it was working, but he said it stung too much to give it a second try.

Stupid nature. Safer inside playing Hungry Sharks on his iPad Mini. Sure, it’s melting his brain one cell at a time, but at least he’d be outwardly unscathed. (Also, he learns about sharks.) (No, it’s not educational. Don’t get it for your child. It’s quite gory and rated 12s and he shouldn’t be playing it at all.)

Mabel walking along a green path in the sunshine
Walking to school, surrounded by nature, waiting to pounce