This summer has been a season on the cusp of big change. Four years ago, when my older son was about to enter his senior year in high school, I knew change was coming, but I hadn’t felt it yet. Four years ago, I still had one son in middle school and one son in high school and I spent a lot of time pondering the mysteries of unmatched socks and managing our food supplies. One Saturday, like a pioneer woman laying in provisions for a long winter, I bought Oreos in bulk – ten sleeves in a box that just fit on the pantry shelf. That will last a while, I thought with some satisfaction.
That night, our house was descended upon, and in the morning both of our couches and our guest room bed were draped with lanky limbs. A plague of grasshoppers. Ten sleeves of Oreos. Fifteen cookies in a sleeve. Gone.
This summer hasn’t been so different, though for much of it, it has been only my younger son and his friends that we find sprawled about, surrounded by granola bar wrappers and banana peels and peach pits and the watery remains of Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee that they pick up after playing rounds of disc golf or finding another local swimming hole. They torture me with stories of jumping from high places into water and by setting up their hammocks twenty feet in the air. Prefrontal cortexes, everyone! Prefrontal cortexes! We did laugh at one hammocking adventure: a night spent in the woods in terrified watchfulness as coyotes howled nearby. They returned to the house, exhausted, just after sunrise.
We did a little hounding of our younger son as the days went on: about getting a job (he got one!), planning some college visits, getting started on that AP summer work so that the school year wouldn’t begin in a resentful panic. But mostly, I reminded myself to enjoy it all. Because I feel the shift now, the big changes that are coming. The quiet, the neatness, the food in the pantry that doesn’t instantly disappear.
Some of the changes of recent years are sweet. I can focus again on my own work and thoughts without so much distraction. When I travel for meetings or conferences or school visits, my attention doesn’t constantly drift back home the way it used to. Now when I’m away and call home, it’s to catch up and say hello, not to organize and orchestrate. And I’ve taken on a new challenge; this year I’ll be teaching a class of sixth grade literature in addition to a class of sixth grade math. It’s a juggling act, but a manageable one now that my kids are nearly eighteen and an impossible twenty-one. I’ve been reading all summer, revisiting books I loved when I was eleven and twelve and discovering new ones. I used to read the Newbury winning novel every year. When I printed off the list recently, I found that I had two decades of catching up to do. I’m eager to get to know my students in a new way. What stories will they love? What characters stick with them? What will they want to write about? It’s a lovely new challenge and I’m glad for it.
When our older son came home from Oregon at the beginning of August, I wanted everything to feel like old times. In small moments it has: when the four of us are at the dinner table, each in our usual spots, with banter and ribbing and nonsense conversations. When we corral everyone outside for a game of four-square on our driveway court, the yellow lines fading but still playable a decade on. When we play Super Smash Brothers on the Switch, my husband and I flailing about with our characters and our predictable attacks. Our sons typically dispatch King Dedede and King K Rool and then focus on each other in the real battle. So much banter and trash-talking, though they’ll praise me when I land a rare, big smash. (It’s patronizing, but I’ll take it. I’m pretty terrible.)
It’s nice to be four again if only for a few more days. Change is hovering nearby and I feel us perched on the edge of it, all of us fledging.
Photo Credits: Kristin Blais