Minnesota winters can be intimidating but summers are downright exhausting and insatiable. Minnesotans aim to be outside all waking hours of summer. We choose infected mosquito bites, boat rides through hail storms and keeping our kids up way too late (though we pay the price every time) over the alternative—indoor anything. We sugar our children to pep them up, keep them going so the bonfire can burn a little longer, the pool party can splash one more memory.
But all this living it up, all these infectious giggles, mixed with demonic side effects can rear an ugly head. Summertime brings out hammocks laced with fresh library books and endless bocce games. It also reeks of sibling wars and sandy feet wearing out the vacuum. And if you have a bit unrefined kids like me, blend up some fart contests and mix in those new found passions involving ear wax, saliva and bubble gum. The boy fort isn’t silencing the bathroom banter or punchlines riddled with pizza toots. These recycle all year long (hooray).
Family reunion time paraded through July and my brother-in-law sincerely (and with a grin of empathy) asked me the question, the one we don’t want to hear. Not the horrific: you sure have your hands full, need any help? No he was much more observant and full of uncle prowess. He asked how I ended up with three physical, high energy boys. Gender stereotypes aside, I do agree the three boy combo can create an indescribable dynamic. I do believe if you throw in a girl things change. Not necessarily calmer, just different. I think the first born sets the tone. At least in our house, it seems number one inspires the zany bandwagon impact filled with wrestling, bicycle stunts and toilet humor. But I also see softer sides, brothers hugging after an incident, kids asking how they can help mama get through a stressful day. I get a little dismayed that distant family and far away friends only see the cooked through side, the edgy uneven part of our pan. Not anyone’s fault, we live far from all family and we know this is the way of it.
Our visitors packed, the family car completed its final road trip of the season and here we sit breaking up petty arguments under the shade tree, pitching one more ball as the sun waves us to bedtime routines and evening rituals—books, prayers and three good things. I do not and will not pretend here or to anyone that my boys are calm or collected when the relatives go or our heads hit pillows after a respite from home but please remember tired, summer amped and frozen treat marathons do reveal darker sides, crazier dares and meltdowns more embarrassing than your worst swimsuit blooper.
I sit listening to my middle playing band with a beach bucket, a ruler and his little brother’s tricycle. First born is cracking jokes with his imaginary friend “Hayday” while reading his favorite graphic novel for the tenth time. Middle says, “Mama, can I draw a picture of you spinning the summer away by reading and writing and running, you know the things you love? I won’t be inappropriate; I’ll just draw a flat shirt because you know the bumps would be…” Here’s me and my shadow, holding flowers or firecrackers (you decide). Everything quickly returned to regularly scheduled programming with a poop emoji flying passed a monkey under neon chalked trees.
Our summer is more than tired kids, more than a cranky family stuck in traffic. We are more than misfits missing routines. We are bubbles and snow cones, ferris wheels and boat rides, fishing lines and unopened sidewalk chalk (so sharp, so possible). I wish the family were here to see it: the reading, the singing through a sprinkler, the excitement of simple things. The real treats of summer: butterfly tag, sandcastle contests, learning to clean toilets (they asked), tea taste tests, pool noodle ninjas, glow stick jewelry, sunset chasing and ice cream bike rides to the lake. He discovered baseball now defines passion; he fell in love with Monet and hunting for lily pads; he gained confidence because bible school rocked. And now we bond over a caterpillar named Floyd because we all still miss our dog more than any one of us can comprehend or dares to accept. We are more than summer tired, we are more than the night we played in Grandpa’s garage and everyone cried. Our boys are zany, silly-hearted boys–they really aren’t that bad.
We left out the sprinkler as a final curtain call to summer. Maybe 40 more days of this and that before we hunker down, wait for the majestic leaves to turn and pray the colors hang on just a little longer than we remember. No we don’t have family next door but we found neighbors like family, irreplaceable friends and somehow in this god forsaken tundra we found home. These folks here see us up and down, blue and pink, fresh and sad—they love us anyway. We don’t feel pressured to put our best foot forward every visit because tomorrow we have a second chance. I admit my anxiety and stress heightens with family when it should subside. I wish our relatives could see the boys swim with church family—they are thickening our souls, loving us with back story and authentic snack times, they (we) reveal to one another a sense of acceptance to be just as you are. If our family could observe these kids wrestling a pink flamingo, conducting diving contests of giggles, blending voices for the red popsicle, and singing sincere apologies over mishaps and blunders–they would see memories baking in the glorious Minnesota summer sun—they would hear our true soundtrack of summer, our everyday, our every season. Believe in it and exhale. After eight winters and seven summers I finally do.