Wednesday, June 15, 2011


I don't know of a kid alive who doesn't live in breathless anticipation throughout the entire school year for summer.  Visions of lazy days, swimming pools, watermelon, mindless TV...what could possibly be better?  Summers when I was growing up fell into a type of routine.  My sister babysat during the summers to make extra money, so I don't remember very many summers without "extras" in the house.  My goal every day of the summer was to sleep as late as I possibly could each and every day.  I think the goal of the kids my sister babysat were to do whatever they could do to keep me from realizing my goal.  We had a window air conditioner in the living room, one in my sister's room, and another in my mother's room.  They were not, under any circumstances, to be turned on without express permission of the management....Mama.  We ran the air conditioner when we were hosting overnight guests (not my or Donna's friends..usually family from out of town).  I can remember being uncomfortable and making up excuses to go to my grandmother's where there was air conditioning every day, but I don't remember ever being miserable in the heat.  Of course, my mother's house had trees that shaded the house.  Also, she had a good old-fashioned window fan in her room.  At night we would close all the windows in the house except the ones in my and my sister's bedrooms and mother would turn on the window fan.  The result would be the equivalent of sleeping in a wind tunnel!  It is from that particular experience that I truly understand the concept of a "soft summer night."  Once I moved away to college and could run the air conditioning in my dorm room as much as I liked, I adjusted to sleeping in a meat locker!

My first transition in my summer schedule didn't actually occur until after I got married.  I wasn't  teaching yet so I still didn't get that summer off from work.  The first summer we were married, however, I was working at a radio station in Enterprise.  I spent that summer being incredibly envious of those still living the college kid summer life.  John was really laid back about "housewife responsibilities," so that first summer transition was actually pretty easy.  We grilled a lot, went to the beach for the day, learned how to live with another person in our summer space.

As an adult I find myself looking back quite fondly on the summers of my youth.  Man, I sound old, don't I?  At this point I feel that I really need to give credit where credit is due.  I grew up with a childhood that I didn't realize that many are not privileged to have.  My mother made sure that we went on a family vacation every single summer.  We cut corners all year to get to go away for a week in the summer.  I'm sure not every vacation was exactly a week....but that's the closest estimate I can make looking back now.  Those trips always followed a pattern:  I filled the back seat with books and pillows while Mother and Donna made their home in the front seat.  They woke me up when we reached our destination and I asked to stop only when I needed a rest area or food. I don't think the two of them every really understood that for me it was never - ever - going to be the trip.  For me, it's the destination!  I like being somewhere new, not necessarily getting there!  I remember quite distinctly being awakened from a perfectly good car nap to look at corn fields in Iowa.  I didn't understand why they felt the need to wake me up to see something I spent several days in as we filled our freezer in the summer!  A corn field, is a corn field, is a corn field, is a get the idea.  But, regardless of whatever we had weathered the previous year, each summer brought that vacation and all three of us looked forward to it all year!  Memories of those vacations still come to me quite often.  I believe that they defined my relationship with my mother and sister.  It was during those long car rides and stopping at every corny tourist trap along the way that we laughed the hardest, talked the longest, and bonded the tightest.  I wouldn't give that up for anything.

My husband and I have been very fortunate that we have been able to carry on that ritual with Erin.  I can't tell you what our first family vacation was, but we have traveled with her since we first learned how much stuff we could cram into the back of our Explorer.  I'm still amazed how much stuff a baby requires for a simple weekend away!  We have even been fortunate to have traveled with my mother and sister, specifically to Alaska and Hawaii on cruises.  Erin has even been to China with my mother!  I think I can fairly say that she is one of the most traveled women of her age in this area!

Last summer was another transition summer for me.  Erin graduated from high school and worked for the summer.  While she was still living at home, I spent my days alone.  It was certainly different from our summer days the rest of her life.  Until then she and I had lazed away our days sleeping late, watching TV, and pretty much seeing how little activity we could get away with!  Now, I'm glad I had that transition last summer, because this summer is a whole new ballgame.

This summer is another transition and it has been especially difficult.  Just like last summer, Erin has a job so she isn't home during the day.  The difference this year is that while Erin has a job, it is in Wisconsin!  She doesn't come home nights.  We don't talk about her day over dinner every night.  Her friends aren't here at night raiding my kitchen and watching TV.  This summer our conversations are via text.  I'm getting faster!  I've also decided that I like texting, because if I'm interrupting whatever she has going on, she can answer me later.  There are details about her days that I find out from others who have talked with her or texted her.  Friends I've spoken with about this don't seem to understand why this summer is any different than the past school year when she was in Tuscaloosa.  It is different - very different.  In Tuscaloosa Erin could jump in her car at the end of her last class and come home.  I think the longest we went without seeing her this last school year was three weeks.  To date she has been gone for right at four weeks with no visit in sight.  I try not to pressure her about coming home because I know it isn't as easy as it was.  A visit home involves either a very expensive plane ticket or a very expensive gas bill to drive.  I miss her, but she knows that.  She misses us, too, but this is an incredible experience for her.  I think that the time she spends in Wisconsin this summer will have a direct influence on the rest of her life one way or another.  I think that the funniest thing about the whole situation is that, as strange as it may seem, she is actually getting to know me better.  I spoke with her today just before some company  who were coming to visit arrived.  She had earlier had an unfortunate disagreement with her mop and I had called to let her actually tell me the story rather than trying to explain it through a text.  Maybe I can better explain what I mean by giving examples of some of the lessons she has learned this summer:

  1. Regardless of all previous opinions, it is important to clean before company arrives even if you just cleaned the day before.
  2. As soon as the kitchen floor dries, someone with mud on his shoes will need to come through.
  3. No matter how many times you unload them, dishwashers need constant attention.
  4. One can survive on Ramen noodles and Alfredo sauce.
  5. Eating out isn't as important as making a house payment.
  6. Dirty clothes breed dirty clothes; laundry is a constant.
  7. One can survive without Internet or television.
  8. Someone in the house needs to know how to cook something besides Ramen noodles.
  9. You can only eat cereal for so many meals before there is a mutiny.
  10. Buying groceries can be a traumatic financial event.
  11. Ignoring the dust on empty pantry shelves won't make food "magically" appear.
  12. You have to tell the people at the post office you have moved in.  The mailman won't just suddenly notice lights in the house and arrange for all your mail to arrive at your door.
  13. Having money in a remote bank where you are unable to access it does mean you are poor.  No    money is no money.  The bills won't wait until you get your banking situation resolved.
  14. Your boyfriend's family's approval makes life so much easier.
  15. Anyone who can read can cook. 
  16. Calling your mother for advice, recipes, or even a laugh doesn't indicate weakness or failure.
  17. You are never, ever too old for a Care Package.
Looking back over the list of lessons she has already learned this summer, I can't wait to see what comes next!  She is making sandwiches, serving coffee, selling snacks to construction workers this summer.  She has learned more economics from this experience than she ever will in a classroom.  Right now there is only a small crew on site.  They are expecting about another 150 workers to come in next week weather permitting.  I do believe her little business will experience a surge next week!  What Erin is learning this summer is a set of true "life lessons."  Those are the lessons you can be told about but you'll never really learn them until you attempt to put them into practice.  I think that's how I'll think of this summer...practice.  She's finding out what it means to be very far away from your safety net.  She's finding out what being responsible for yourself really means.  She's finding out that all the times I lectured her on neatness, cleanliness, etc., I really did know what I was talking about.  Hopefully, above and beyond all else, I hope she realizes that no matter how far away she goes there are people here who love her, who want her to be happy, who want her to be successful.  This summer is just one more stop on that wild ride that is living an independent life. 

We, as her parents, have always believed it to be very important that she be independent - that she be confident in her own abilities to take care of herself away from us.  She is trying to find out if the life she can make for herself in Wisconsin is one in which she will be truly happy.  She is spending time with TJ to see if being with him on a day-to-day basis is what she thought it would be and if she can see herself there in the future.  She has learned her lessons well and we couldn't be more proud.  What that means to me personally, is that I must, out of necessity, spend my summer in yet another transition - teaching myself how to be alone.  I have to learn that having her become everything we knew she could be isn't a bad thing just because she is becoming that person so far away.  Our dream for her has always been to go to college, experience college life to the fullest, make life-long friends, then, after she graduates from college, go out into the world and begin her life.  I keep having to remind myself that is my dream for her, not necessarily hers for herself.  Her first year in college wasn't the experience I wanted it to be, but I think it was the experience she wanted it to be.  She has made new friends and developed some old ones.  She is happier now with her life than I have seen her be for quite a while.  What more could a parent ask than that a child be secure and happy?

Just one last thing I truly want Erin to stop to consider...mild temperatures during the summer in Wisconsin turn in to brutal temperatures in the winter!  But, then, what better excuse to visit?!

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