Summer House of Cards

Ah, summer vacation.  Freedom, swimming until we pruned, and playing hide-n-seek 'till the lightening bugs lit up the yard.  My philosophy of summer was solidified in suburban Chicago, in the late 70's and 80's, and also includes Deep Woods Off, Jarts, and riding one's bike to the pool sans parents.

Here in 2015, however, I am on a seven-year-long wait list for a beach permit.  The neighborhood kids and school pals are booked solid with camps, lessons, trips and tutors.  Handing my kids Jarts or DEET would probably get me arrested.  And, let's be honest: after a winter full of snow days with zero programming, my opposition to over-scheduled children has crumpled.  

Unlike the Midwest, where everything from the roads to park districts seem to be governed by an overarching organizational structure, my new Northeastern town has about 78 distinct, little, private organizations offering lessons and activities.  True to their Puritan roots, most of these entities shun any sort of self-promotion, including making information about dates and enrollment available to the public.  Information is shared among close friends in tight huddles--"Miss Larkin teaches ceramics, surfing and dressage--she's a hidden treasure, and all the children love her.  Here's her number."  (I suspect these disclosures occur at the beach, but I won't know for 7 years. )

After two years in town wondering how to sign up Buzzy for decent swimming lessons, I've become more aggressive about stalking the town treasures until they add me to their email distribution lists, and about shaking down other moms about their kids' summer plans. The smart parents enroll their kids in one or two camps that cover most of the summer and call it done.  (These are also the admirable families whose vacations are booked.)  The rest of us juggle the 78 options (or the 6 of which we are aware)--all of which publish what little information they offer at different times--trying to coordinate multiple kids' preferences and possibly even the preferences of friends whose parents may be carpool allies.  When one child's plan changes, an entire carefully crafted summer can come crashing down.  Buzzy's friend's neighbor's decision NOT to attend nature camp resulted in a flurry of activity up and down her street.  We came through relatively unscathed, with just two activities to rebook.  

Now, I exaggerate--but just a little (and, sadly, not about the length of the wait list for the beach). And I do realize that even in the glorious hometown of my youth with the gridded streets and central park district, everything has changed.  Planning kids' summers requires spreadsheets in most places. But, sometimes, I catch a whiff of Deep Woods Off, and miss those endless summer days.  I may even resolve to keep Buzzy's and Rosie's summers a little bit open. . . .  especially since Miss Larkin won't return my calls.  


This winter was fueled by copious amounts of hot cocoa, wine, and whatever I could scavenge to divert my attention from my children home on another snow day the snowbanks piling ever higher against my door.  These delectables ranged from leftover taco cheese, to Cheerios, to Halloween candy I found stashed behind a dusty box of rice noodles. You get the idea.

Now, I've been  meaning to exercise, of course.  On mogul runs, especially, with my thighs burning, I swore I would hit the treadmill or take up spinning or at least try those cultish Barre classes.  But we all know that the road to fitness is paved with good intentions, and even those were largely ignored by apres-ski.

This past weekend, I wore a new top that my sister gave me for Christmas.  She's better than a personal shopper.  It covered all evidence of my winter diet and the two c-sections I'm still blaming. Five year old Rosie rushed over to me to check things out.  She smooshed her head into my stomach.

"Oh, good!  Your belly is still chubby!" she said.  She looked at me to make sure I understood. "Chubby is a happy word for fat."  It was, clearly, a compliment.

I assured her I got it.  And I seem to have.  Today, without any conscious thought, I found myself at the community gym.  It's in the basement of an old building, and I was the youngest one there.  It smells reassuringly just like my high school's weight room, and I picked out a treadmill.

Breaking a sweat felt great.  I envisioned finishing a marathon. Then I checked my time.  I'd been running for 8 minutes.  Perhaps a 5K, then.  A flat one.  I held out 16 minutes longer, then accidentally pressed the wrong button and things came to a shuddering stop.  I took it as a sign and hopped off, face beet red and legs wobbly.  The senior next to me smiled and kept sprinting.

Outside, it was near 50.  The snow was actually melting.  Thanks to Rosie, I just might be ready for summer after all.  Or at least next year's mogul runs.