Saturday, July 30, 2011

The long summer

It's been a long summer.
A very long summer.
With early sunrises and late sunsets, no one sleeps in our household.
And no one wants to stay home.
That means no writing at night or early in the morning, and no sneaking in a few words here and there during the day.
I can't even jot down notes at the pool or the lake because our youngest two are still swimmers-on-the-verge. Both have taken their first independent strokes. One even started swimming a little distance the other day. But at 4 years old, they still have no judgment and they certainly don't have enough endurance.
My eyes must remain focused on them even when lifeguards are present.
I know.
I could make it a priority.
I could squeeze a few words in here and there.
But we have four kids and they tire me out.
What I really want at the end of the day is a glass of wine.
What I really want in the morning is a cup of coffee.
But my mind won't rest.
Even without a laptop or a pencil and paper, I find that I am writing. I am writing in my head constantly, focusing on my characters when I should be focusing on the road, blurting out plot dilemmas during conversations about minnows and tadpoles, revising while I'm loading the dishwasher and scrubbing pots and pans.
When September comes around and the kids return to school, I know that I will have trouble doing anything but writing. I will obsess. I will forget my vow to exercise more. I will procrastinate on those home remodeling projects. I will be surprised to realize that it's time to get the twins from preschool and nearly time for my husband to bring the older kids home.
I will have my hands on the keyboard, banging out those words -- those characters, plots and settings -- that are fighting for space in my head. The experience will be freeing just like it was last fall. I will be productive. Very productive.
I am excited.
But ...
why then do I still dread the fall?
Why do I find that I am reluctant to send the kids off to their classrooms, where they will be challenged daily, where they socialize with their friends, where someone else will feed them lunch?  Maybe even saddened? Maybe even a wee bit depressed?
I love to write, but the reality is that I love my kids more.
And it's healthy to be pulled away from my keyboard, to get a little color on my arms, legs and face, to have lunch on a picnic table that is situated between the beach and the playground.
It's good for me to converse with other moms while the kids swing or climb on the monkey bars. And it certainly doesn't hurt to sit into a chair at night with stars bright above me and fire crackling in front of me and my husband beside me, watching the older kids instruct the younger ones on the qualities of a perfect s'more.
The things is that every September brings us closer to ages when the kids won't be interested in hanging out with mom in the summer anymore. Every September, I realize that they've grown just a little bit more. Grown a little more independent of me.
That makes me proud, but it also makes me appreciate the time I have with them.
I will always be able to write provided my mind remains sharp and my hands can still navigate a keyboard, but I will not always be able to a push swing or coming running to see a captured crayfish in a net or catch a child jumping off the edge of a pool.
Because the kids won't need me that way.
So for now, the words in my head will just have to move over, cram closer together and make room for more.
They are not going anywhere.
But I am.
The pool, the deli, Darien Lake, the library, the playground, the beach, up and down the street in front of our house, grandma's, Aunt Karen's, cousin Amy's, maybe Aunt Angie's one more time, the mall, Market Street, a hike, and who knows where else.
Who knows.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Freedom at the fireworks: a small-town advantage

It's been years since I've taken the older kids to a fireworks display.
I don't like crowds and our oldest son panics when people box him in.
My husband, who towers above most folks at 6-foot-5, lives in constant fear of knocking heads and shoulders with his elbows. Events that attract thousands to tiny plots of land do not generally merit his consideration.
So we weren't even tempted to attend fireworks displays in our previous home cities of  Phoenix and Cincinnati, where people are crammed body against body at most of the official fireworks sites, sometimes even camping overnight to claim the best spots.
But when I heard that Troupsburg, NY, a small (really small) town just across the border from our equally small (really small) Pennsylvania borough, was hosting a display July 3, I gave into the pleas of the older kids and decided it was time to give it a try.
My husband stayed home with our 4-year-old twins while the older two kids and I met up with friends and headed about nine miles north to the hay field just beyond the elementary school, where we were told to park.
We passed a small gathering of vehicles here, a large group of chairs on the side of the rural road there, more vehicles and more chairs until, finally, we found a spot of our own  on the edge of the mowed field with no one close enough to even hear us talk.
Those who settled somewhat nearby seemed to be facing the center of the field, but all we saw before us was a van parked about 100 yards away. It was too dark in this place with no houses or street lights to see more.
We chatted and waited, figuring the fireworks must be set elsewhere and that those who directed us believed this was the best observation point.
We were wrong.
Were we ever wrong.
Our conversation was disrupted by a blast so close that my daughter flew into my lap. We leaned back in our chairs, our faces parellel to the stars, as the flames burst into thousands of colorful sparks in our own piece of sky, surrounding us and engulfing us.
Dancing, it seemed, just for us.
Only us.
The performance was every bit as breathtaking as the displays I enjoyed in my journalism days in Syracuse, NY, with a grand finalle that brought my 11-year-old son to his feet. It was only then, when cheering errputed from all directions, that I remembered how many other people were there.
In the field, on the side of the road, in the park down the road, in town on their front lawns or in their back yards.
Experiencing this with us.
It was, as my friend Gail put it, "like our own personal show."
I had to smile.
I immediately knew that next year, I will bring my husband and the twins. There is no reason to fear infliction of injury at this fireworks display, no need to worry that the twins will take over someone else's blanket, no need to feel claustrophobic or panicked. No one will try to sell us $5 glow sticks or light-up twirly things or drinks or snacks.
No one will step on our fingers or toes or jump over legs as we try to enjoy the show.
We will all find a place in this field, our own space, where we can relax and stretch our legs without sacrificing the view. And I will remember, as I did on this night, all those well-meaning people who warned me when we moved here exactly one year ago that I would find small-town life (really small-town life) "inconvient."
Convenience is, I was reminded once again, most certainly relative.