Thursday, June 14, 2012

Ice Cream for Dinner

The calendar passed into June when I wasn’t looking, so now I’m busy wrapping teachers’ gifts and ironing labels onto the waistbands of camp shorts at warp speed. Though there are still finals to take and essays to write, summer is about to be crowned king. You can practically wrap your hands around the excitement pulsing through the house.

What I love most about summer is what goes missing. Evening extracurricular activities come to a halt. I can stow my nagging voice that asks if homework is finished, tests have been studied for, permission slips signed. For two whole months, I can just be that cool mom who shouts “Nice shot!” from the kitchen window.

On the other hand, what I dread most about summer is what goes missing. Clearly defined bedtimes become a thing of the past. Schedules, those backbones of structure, suddenly bend and flex. In their absence, the fine line between chaos and order ends up with sunscreen in its eyes.

Still, I know how therapeutic it can be to let a little air out of our extensively programmed bubble, despite the potential to throw our lives into disarray. As the stress of school recedes into memory, the house becomes more disorganized, yet more peaceful. The boys are better rested, too, now that they can slough off sleep naturally, not on the mad dash to the school bus stop.

Like sunflowers, they grow taller as July chases August. Their muscles become more defined, their shoulders broader, from hours in the pool and on the basketball court. They glow, their skin bronzed with youthful exuberance. To my amazement, they also mature, because there is opportunity to dream dreams and imagine the impossible, activities for which exams and practices leave no time.

The older they get, the faster the school years seem to fly. Suddenly, my first grader is finishing his freshman year of high school. My toddler is entering middle school and his baby brother is right behind him. Kiddie pools are history, though water balloons have not been entirely eclipsed by teenage ennui.

For now, my boys are still Boys of Summer. As each new school grade chips away at their youth, the summer hiatus helps them to cling to it a little longer. These hot months compose a sweet, sticky moment that slows down time long enough for them to enjoy the magic and wonder of their days.

I remember the exact instant when that feeling first escaped me, when that last bit of my youthful spirit fled in the night. I initially embraced its absence, naively thinking it a sign of my arrival at independence and adulthood.

Then I woke up one Monday morning at the end of June and realized that nothing had changed while I was sleeping. It was not the first day of a two-month break. Work just picked up where I’d left it the previous Friday. Summer had come, but it no longer intended to transform my day-to-day existence.

Gone were those carefree hours catching fireflies, running barefoot through the sprinkler as the blades of grass tickled the balls of my feet. Responsibility had replaced insouciance, clouding that part of me that secretly longed to chase down the ice cream truck and build a sandcastle. Out of necessity, I soon learned to forget all of the promise that summer once held.

These days I spend a lot of my time thinking about the future, about how my children will do in school and how they will fare in the world. So I struggle to let the summer pass unscathed by my worries. I allow the boys to play basketball until the sun goes down and to stay up late watching movies. I ignore the muddy footprints left behind as the screen door slams again and pay no heed to banisters sticky from melting ice pops.

Unbeknownst to them, the boys exude an aura of freedom, and for me, it is summer’s greatest gift. This time, I intend for their shouts of joy to jar my memory of the magic that can still be a part of my adult, mature, responsible life. Rather than mourn those feelings of wonder that long ago escaped me, I hope to recapture them, like fireflies in a jar at dusk.

I will poke holes in the lid to keep them alive, setting the jar on the counter as I offer the boys ice cream for dinner. And then I will join them.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Band of Brothers

Now that the cheesecake and blintzes are behind us, I started thinking about a few non-dairy matters that came to mind over Shavuot.

While we were reimagining that earth-shaking moment when we stood together beneath Mount Sinai, I began to wonder what it would have been like if I’d actually been there at the original Matan Torah with my crew. The very thought stirred the beginnings of a debilitating headache.

Sadly, my creative imagination cannot control itself, so it carried me back to the desert despite my protestations.

I found myself among an endless sea of men and women swaying in a spiritual trance, their hands reaching heavenward. A palpable energy charged the atmosphere. We were quaking in anticipation. This was a defining moment for us as a people. Nothing would ever be the same.

But I looked down and the bubble burst. None of this seemed to register with my boys. Not a blip of expectation was pulsing through their veins.

Rather than awaiting their birthright with open arms, they were instead indisposed, which is to say they were verbally sparring. At first, I tried to ignore them, keeping my focus on Moshe’s gradual descent from above. Then I pretended the boys belonged to another family, but did not expect to pull that one off for long.

Meanwhile, their high velocity harrumphing towards one another continued. I scanned the crowd, anxious that others were disturbed by the ruckus, but no one seemed to be. Shrinking into myself anyway, I could not help but note that all the other children were silent.

Maternal curiosity being what it is, I listened in to hear what my sons were saying, distracting myself from the scene at the top of the mountain. I was stunned by the wealth of possible ways one can express the fond sentiment “my brother is stupid” in English. I shhed them, but that did no good. They were either ignoring me or simply could not hear over the bolts of lightning.

Oh boy, I thought, steeped in my own embarrassment. They have no shame. It’s not like we were back home in our own tent. Every member of our people – generations past, present and future -- was huddled together with us, and my crew was missing it all. Quickly, I put these considerations by the wayside as the situation deteriorated.

The name-calling had descended into the realm of poking and prodding, while the crowd – luckily – had eyes only for those heavy tablets Moshe was now schlepping down from heaven in our name. For a moment, I was dismayed when I learned that “thou shalt not needle thy brother” had not made it to the Top Ten.

Before I could cry out “I will do and I will listen,” we reached rock bottom over in our corner. The poking and prodding had transformed into full-blown wrestling. I was deeply grateful that the crowd was busy accepting the commandments, leaving me reasonably convinced that we had not been noticed at all. Still, I dipped my head in shame.

Most painful to me, though, was that the boys had squabbled their way through the show of a lifetime. I mourned the fact that so much had come and gone without a moment’s acknowledgment by their quarrelling selves.

Then, suddenly, I caught the eye of another mother in the crowd. She arched her eyebrows at me in solidarity, and I realized she had seen everything. But wait. She began to shrug her shoulders, and with the swoop of her palm presented to me the truth I’d been unable to see before: her children, too, were in the midst of a sibling confrontation.

Huh, I wondered.

It was almost contagious. One by one, mothers began to eye one another, each of us silently saying the same thing. Funny, how we were all blinded by our own children’s antics. Looking around more clearly, I took note that the only perfectly behaved children were the ones who were allowed to bring a DS to the ceremonies.

Turning back to the spiritual scene at hand, I let go of my embarrassment and took it all in, briefly allowing myself to be filled with the power of the awesome moment. Shame, I realized, that I’d let myself be so distracted.

As we began to scatter and head back to our tents, I overheard my boys say to one another, “Guys, wasn’t that cool?” as if they hadn’t been fighting the entire time. As if they’d witnessed anything.

It is possible, I realized, that they’d been paying attention after all, that I’d only magnified their little spat into something dramatically Shakespearean…or biblical.

“Yeah, bro,” I hear them continue. “Let’s go get some ice cream.”

“Later, Mom.”

Later, boys.