The Boys of Summer
As a man “of a certain age,” I’ve long forgotten what it’s like to truly experience summer. I’m lucky enough to work at home, and there are weeks when my car gathers dust in the driveway—something almost unheard of in road-wretched Los Angeles. Some days I don’t even get out of my pajamas till noon, and coffee is always going. Of course there’s a down side, too.
Between writing projects for pay, there’s always work to do: a dishwasher to unload, beds to make, an ocean of dog hair to vacuum, and laundry to keep up with. My wife goes to her office every day, and I hate to have her come home and find more stuff to do, so I don’t mind being Mr. Mom. While freelancing itself is a pleasure, freelancers never feel the anticipatory joy of TGIF; every day is a potential workday, so Saturday may as well be Monday if there’s a Tuesday deadline. And spring becomes summer becomes fall, each season melting into the next without many external signs of the change like I used to have after decades working in an office or in front of a class of high school students restless for vacation, holidays, or the joyous (for everyone) “student-free days” when we teachers still worked, but without the distractions of bells, carbonated teenage melodrama, and five-minute pee breaks.
My son’s birthday is at the end of June, and for the past two years I’ve had him and his little sister in summer camp, taking day trips and swimming with a group of kids and counselors and keeping busy all day, allowing me to keep focused all day without having to stop to make lunch, concentrate to the background noise of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Dragonball Z, and an endless loop of iCarly in the background, coax kids off the TV and into the sunshine, and answer endless questions (“What’s for dinner?” is usually presented at 8:30 a.m.).
But a severely constricted income this year makes it necessary to have them home all day, along with two huge Labrador Retriever puppies who (like some people) tend to over-occupy every space they’re in, running, romping, digging, chewing, and snoozing in spontaneous bursts. Each day, the air is filled with shifting dynamics and raw kid energy.
Remember your own long summer days when “there’s nothing to do,” and “I’m bored”? It’s a whole different perspective when you’re the one who’s got too much to do. But this summer I’ve noticed that my son, having just turned 11, is becoming his own man, with the house now full of at least one or two neighborhood boys with nothing to do but big plans and a yearning to be entertained by one grumpy and income-insecure middle-aged man.
This summer, my home is a clearinghouse for kids. I watch them find their own entertainment. The bicycles come out of the garage for hour-at-a-time rides, and boys come home impossibly filthy for the small space of time (“We rode through some sprinklers at the park and didn’t see the mud” was one of a hundred explanations). My daughter and her friend take a ceramic baking dish from the cupboard to use as Barbie’s swimming pool, the original toy one having been lost in the warehouse of our storage shed, and their afternoon is spent huddled in the bedroom playing and talking. “What do you guys talk about?” I asked the other day. My daughter thought for a moment.
“Doggies.” That was it.
But it’s the boys I watch most closely. Twelve weeks without homework, bag lunches, and being told what to do and when makes them look like wrongly convicted prisoners finally being released on DNA evidence. The days fan out in front of them, endless combinations of ways to get dirty, make things go from one place to another, find new ways to flip a skateboard, eat like small ponies, and turn once-regal shrubs into Amazon jungles where toy soldiers make their way across a deadly terrain.
Today I understand what it is about me that is in conflict with what it is about them. With all the hoo-rah of housekeeping and work projects, I had forgotten what it means to be a boy, and they are awakening it for me. Maybe it’s just nostalgia for simpler summer days, or a challenge to find out if I’ve still got the energy to do it, but I’ve gotten my own bicycle out of the garage and joined them on a couple of excursions, usually culminating in ice cream and marveling in their sweet, uncomplicated sense of friendship, adventure, and hours to fill.
I’m making more of an effort to join them, if just for a few minutes each day. I don’t want my own inaction and impatience to create a canyon of miscommunication between my son and me. My knees and hip hurt, and my hair is grey, but for part of this summer’s afternoon, I’m going to be just one of the boys, riding through the muddy puddles of my memory and making some new experiences to share with a beautiful boy whose world is opening up for him, and for me. He’s a good teacher.