Moon is high in the sky, crickets serenade each other.   Behind me, to my side, is a thicket of forest deep and dark, where deer, coyote and other wildlife roam.  It’s strange to look and see my backdoor, a mere thirty feet away.  Mid-July, the hottest of the hot, when the air seems to stick to my skin.  A huge,  blue tent with dozens of pillows (because I love them), a blanket (because I can’t rest unless my body is covered), an icebox filled with Dr. Pepper and water juices, a bag of sinfully delicious snacks.  Books are strewn about the floor of the tent,  stuffed animals abound in every corner.  The “girly girl bag”  rests on one of the two sleeping bags, filled with nail polish, hair “pretties” and make-up.  A bug habitat resting beside the entrance.

Outside,  the child-sized swing and a full-sized beach chair sit in front of a roaring fire, its sound crackling and hissing as my daughter and I make s’mores and re-count the fun we’ve had in the previous hours: catching, and watching with wonder, the multitude of fireflies that illuminate our otherwise dark yard;  apple bobbing and swimming in the pool; water balloon tossing games and, now, campfire stories and songs.  Peace permeates the air, even if only for this one night, for this one moment that’s been magically captured in time.  Things that seemed important yesterday, like bills and food and schedules, seem totally ridiculous right now: ridiculous and far, far away.  Right now, the only thing that matters is hearing more of our laughter and thanking God for the opportunity to create this memory for my daughter and I.

Eventually, exhaustion wears out and, into the tent, we retreat. We paint each other’s nails, we brush each other’s hair, we read books and take turns telling more stories. We hug our stuffed animals.  Soon, silence falls between us.  All we hear are the rustling of the leaves, the swaying of the treee branches, the crickets’ melody, the unmistakable sound of loitering, unidentifiable, wildlife.   My heartbeat slows, the air fills my lungs more deeply and, as we rest, I think to myself,  This isn’t just summer. This is life.

**** **** ****

In the 1980’s and 90’s, the era of my childhood, summer represented the one thing I hated the most:  heat.  While I suffered from (self-inflicted) alienation at school, it was the one place I excelled and so, the end of school didn’t represent any great “freedom” that it seemed to for my peers. The only positive thing about summer was Fan Fair: it was the one week of Summer that I forgot about the heat, forgot about my otherwise staunch resistance to endless, mindless walking.  It was the one thing I looked forward to.  One summer, when I was fifteen,  money was an issue and it was going to be difficult to afford Fan Fair.  Despite how greatly I loved them, I took all of my Baby-sitter’s Club Books in a box and went door to door, until I found a mom who purchased all of them for her daughter at the criminally cheap rate of $40.  We got to go to Fan Fair, and I thought it a good trade. Fan Fair made summer bearable.  With its exception, I spent summers languishing away in my room, writing novels, and traveling from one state to the next with my family, cherishing my air conditioning and my comfortable bed.  Spending time on hikes, or  otherwise involved with Nature was a completely alien concept to me.

But then.

My oldest daughter, Breathe, was born.  Then,  three years later, my youngest daughter, Alight, was in my arms.  Slowly, but unrelentlessly, the nightmares of my past began to recede. Freedom was within sight.  I no longer felt as though I were walking a tightrope;  it was easier to give myself permission to not always have to obtain perfection in every area of my life.  I felt safe, truly safe, for the first time in my entire life.  And, suddenly, life took on a whole new meaning.

There were a few things I knew I wanted to teach my daughters.

  • God is real, and He loves them. He set aside a special day for fellowship and worship with other believers.  Hence, tired or not, we go to church every Sunday morning and Wednesday night.
  • Volunteerism and charity aren’t just to feel good about ourselves: they mean something, and have the potential to alter lives: ours and our recipients. Therefore, we serve God and our church, and take time to reach out to our community through hospital visits to sick children and our Compassion outreach.
  • There is no wrong way to do art.  Through art, you have the ability to be free, and to express your deepest emotions.  Individuality is perfectly acceptable, and respected. To get across, take my paint and use it to paint anything in sight, even (and maybe especially) your skin — and mine! 
  • Hidden behind the prickly blades of grass, the unrelenting heat of the Sun, the frigid air from the snow, behind every season of the year, Nature reveals to us something of God. Therefore, it is worth our attention and our respect. 

  • Regardless of what you do, my love goes no where.  No job, no bill, no nothing is more important than creating the memories that will act as a guide for you to a confident and secure adulthood.
  • Social skills are not inherent: they are taught.  Opportunities for interaction with peers is critical.
  • Your name is unique not just to be different, but because you are special and worthy of a name rich with meaning. Furthmore, it is perfectly acceptable NOT to always fit in.

Initially,  I thought the toughest of these lessons to teach would be Nature because, frankly, I had never had a very good relationship with it.  But then, as tiny flickers of hope and peace began to unwind through my heart and blossom into everyday decisions, I realized that I actually *enjoyed* sitting in the sun on the swing, writing. Parks were some of my favorite locations.  The feel of the grass beneath my feet was actually quite pleasant.  I had never noticed before how bright the stars were. I had never noticed before that jumping in mud puddles without inhibition produced a sense of joy found nowhere else.  I’d always run inside at the first hint of rain; now, I secretly willed it to rain so that I could get my girls in raincoats, so we could dance, sticking out our tongues to catch raindrops, totally unconcerned with how wet we got.  Blankets spread outside, adorned with toys and books, and no plans to be anywhere or achieve anything, became important. The ice cream truck became my long lost friend. 

With the arrival of each new May, I found myself getting excited about the arrival of the hottest months of the year.  I  thought to myself, Why can’t we have a lemonade stand of our own?  Why can’t we go strawberry picking, like in the books?   Modern technology, via the Internet, allowed me to find strawberry patches, peach and apple farms. Picnics became the preferred lunch. The zoo became my friend, and I found solace in recognizing its animals by name.  Nowadays, I’d have to admit, I’ve joined the ranks of most Americans who claim summer their favorite season.

I have a (somewhat) active account with Plinky.com.  Its question today was  to name my favorite summer memory.

Last year, Breathe and I set aside a day to be Camp-out Night. We pitched a tent in our backyard, developed and executed games, forgot bedtimes and simply enjoyed each other.  The first part of this blog describes what we felt, saw and enjoyed.  But, as powerful as they are, there are simply some things words cannot convey. Peace is one of those concepts.  I felt as though I were walking in a dream, or a beloved novel. Tranquility ruled.  Not only was it a great night, but it also symbolized, for me, the subtle, yet very real, changes peace and hope produce.

Summer is about more than freedom and water. It’s about more than barbeques and
spectaculor displays of color in the sky. Summer is about promises. Promises of slowed time, promises of the peace that hope instills in weary hearts, promises of light after darkness. Winter came, and is gone. In its place, roses bloom, harvests abound, the sad sing.  Spring brought hope, summer brings peace. Energy refilled, the sun brightens not only our world but our outlook on tomorrow.  You see, I have come to have a very deep and abiding love of and respect for nature, in all its unpredictableness. I see that each season has something new and beautiful to offer our hearts. But of all the gifts offered by the different seasons, Summer has come to symbolize new traditions, like peach and strawberry picking. It has come to symbolize unlimited time to deepen the connection we have with others and to create memories that will form the foundations of our children’s childhoods. Magic is everywhere. Blessings are evident.

My favorite summer memory, as of today, is spending the night with Breathe in the backyard tent, for all the many things it represented.  The truth, though, is that, as long as I remember to allow it to do so, summer will fulfill its promise of rendering peace, simply by washing the world in a cascade of light and warmth. Summer is its own memory, its own blessing by God and its own unique place in my heart.

 

 

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