So, the thing isÖ change is in the air.
It is July. The days are hot and still and breathless and every trip out of our air-conditioned haven takes an almost super-human effort. You canít really describe a Texas summer. It is an experience all its own. Nevertheless, at some point long after it should, the summer ends and is usually followed by a heck of a storm.
It has been a pivotal summer in ways I couldnít have predicted. If I were Lance Armstrong, Iíd say it was ďepic.Ē There is this sense of expectation, this sense that a storm is coming: one with the power to change our lives irrevocably. I rush around, trying to preserve things, to bring things to order because the weather is changing. Iím jettisoning all of the baby gear, reorganizing our life for school kids. Iím trying to put up the three million toys and pool floats and deck chairs before the first drops of water hit my face. A storm is coming, as sure as I breathe in the last of Janeís baby smell.
A reader wrote the other day to ask me if Iíd stopped writing the column, since itís been so long since my last one. I havenít stopped writing (well, okay, this IS the three weeks of the Tour de France) but a lot of the writing Iíve been doing has been in a vain effort to capture the essence of this summer, to document the last trace of having children at home who both need and want my presence.
So, itís been a while since my last column and it may be longer still until the next one. I hadnít PLANNED on taking a sabbatical this year. I thought Iíd have a lot of time to write because we purposefully hadnít overscheduled ourselves. I envisioned long afternoons in the hammock but in reality, weíve mostly had long afternoons in the air conditioning. Damn, itís hot. Still, change is in the air.
I have a sense of the earth moving, of the continental plates colliding. Itís clear that this summer is one of the big ones. One of those times when I canít look away because I might miss something that Iíll never see again. It is a time (magical, really) when I know my life is leaving one stage and headed for the next one and I can almost see the transition. I remember when Bonnie Raitt won a Grammy for ďNick of Time,Ē she gave a speech that said something like, ďIím grateful that this success came at a time when I can appreciate it.Ē I guess I feel the same way: I am glad that this change is coming at a time when Iím aware of it. ACUTELY aware, actually, just like Iím aware of a storm rolling in.
Iíve been minutely documenting our activities ó snapping photos and journaling events in my scrapbook. I, who havenít yet managed a baby book for either of my children, nor a wedding album, nor anything about our family history, have documented in the smallest detail the mornings when the girls and I made pancakes together, when we planted our garden, when we (they) jumped on the couch cushions. Itís been an effort to record our daily lives Ė before the storm. Because the storm IS coming.
So, I snap pictures of everything from the ladybug in the driveway to Janeís first day of summer camp when she walked in, said goodbye to me over her shoulder and that was that. I try to record the big things, like the Fourth of July, when Ana was allowed to stay up and to watch the fireworks for the first time. I write about how she came home and I was helping her undress and she said, ďWow, Mom, when you pulled the shirt over my head and I closed my eyes, I could still see the fireworks in my head. They were so beautiful.Ē Or how Ana turned loose from the side of the pool and paddled across it ó without any fanfare or advance notice or prodding from her parents. And just in time, too, because a storm is coming, and she might need to know how to swim.
Itís just like watching the clouds move across the sky, this feeling. Things are changing. Anaís best friend since they met at age 18 months, Aaron, has made the transition from playing with her to playing with The Boys. I mean, sheís a princess and heís a Hot Wheels driver and well, there you go. But she feels it, you know, even though it was probably as inevitable as a change in the weather.
And Jane, after two-and-a-half years of being a Mommyís Girl, has transferred her affections to her father (which I expected and all but still felt deeply.)
And I learned, finally, after 38 years, that I donít have to please everybody all of the time.
And my mom said to me, ďIt is one of my big regrets that I wonít live to see these girls grow up and become what they are becoming.Ē
Things are shifting. I watch and I listen and I try so hard to imprint all this on the fabric of my very self. I donít want to forget how special itís been. Because weíre buying school supplies and new backpacks and my mom bought Ana a new desk, so she would have her own workspace once school starts. She sat down and wrote a story. Here it is: Once upon a time, Jane went out walking. All of a sudden, a wolf. The End.Ē (As a writer, I can tell you the story has everything it needs: Simple plot. Taut action. Logical conclusion.) Jane is potty-training and beginning to criticize my driving. Everything is changing. I donít know whether to cry or to dance in the rain.
So I do what I always do when I am nervous or feeling insecure or shy. I make a mental list of my blessings Ėthose things that no one can ever take from me: a few career highlights, my beautiful children, my strong marriage, my five years as a stay-at-home mom. I take them and weave them into a cloak, much like Josephís, and I wrap it around myself as a sort of armor against self-defeating thoughts, or the critical judgment of others (real or imagined,) and it gives me courage. Iím adding this perfect and heartbreaking summer to that fabric to wrap around me. Itís weather proof, you know, and I feel like Iím going to need it.
Because both of my kids are going to school on August 18th.
And I think thereís going to be a big ole change in the weather.
come before we can grow.
Learn to see them before we're too old.
Don't just take me for tryin' to be heavy.
Understand, it's time to get ready for the storm.
Ray Vaughn, ďCouldnít Stand the WeatherĒ
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Barbara Cooper 2003
Barbara Cooper is the mother of Ana (5) and Hurricane Jane (2.5). She lives in Austin, Texas and sheís looking for galoshes bigger than life.