Julie Kaiser: Easing out of summer

Julie Kaiser

We bid farewell to summer from a cottage in southwest Michigan where our toes showed clearly from the sandy bottoms of balmy Lake Michigan. The rough edges of our heels were smoothed by the sand while inland our blood provided a buffet for swarming mosquitoes with every step we ventured outdoors.

That’s how our vacation went — lazy hours of relaxation punctuated by those stinging interludes only your children can provide.

We made it four days before the contentment of watching our kids jump the waves was juxtaposed against a backseat brawl on the way home as they fought over who lost the goggles, threw sand first or kicked over the castle.

“You stupid idiot,” shouted the one. “I hate you!” responded the other. Powerful words, especially since using “stupid” and “hate” are against family rules (along with fistfights).

Tears ensued.

Imagine this specter of prolonged agony and rage when we resided in the land of blueberries and beaches. My husband drove in silence.

“I hope you enjoyed this vacation,” I told them with snarly sweetness. “Because this is the last time we take you on a trip.”

(In case you aren’t aware, sarcasm is frowned upon in the parenting guides. But it soothed me as I imagined leaving the little rabble rousers home next time.)

Obviously, this was not the carefree response I aspired to. At the beginning of August, we were in dire need of a break from our frenetic summer schedule.

With three weddings, three trips out of state, family celebrations, summer camps, Springfield Sliders baseball games, play dates, sports practices and games, the summer of 2010 proved far busier than we expected.

“Where is the summer going?” we asked each other in June and again in July. The answer was scrawled throughout my datebook.

“Michigan will be a nice break,” I said. And indeed it mostly was.

My mom and dad came along, and we feasted on sweet corn, tomatoes and fresh blueberry pie. We played ping pong on the back porch, read stories and remained flummoxed by the lurking mosquitoes. Despite our use of bug spray, citronella candles and insect fogger, the bloodthirsty opportunists squashed our plans to play badminton, hike trails or sit outside by a fire. Finally, S’mores were achieved via microwave in the air-conditioned and bug-free comfort of our cottage kitchen.

Despite those times when the kids bickered or harangued us with, “What are we going to do next?” we still reveled in the luxury of unscheduled time. We skipped rocks, applauded water-logged handstands, explored antique shops and wandered around the Kalamazoo Air Zoo.

At the cottage, we occasionally checked e-mail and news about the Blagojevich trial, but cell phone coverage on the beach was nonexistent. This was not such a bad thing since we enjoyed unplugged hours on the sand while our kids found hundreds of “special” rocks, dug ditches and made friends with other kids on the beach.

That time to be really present with one another was precious — even with the kids’ arguments — and it is probably worth pursuing beyond vacation time.

But school has started, and our schedule is once again dictated by the school bus and homework routines. It’s probably a healthy thing our kids are separated by school buildings this year. Maybe they will learn how to appreciate each other ... or not.

As for me, I am still scratching mosquito bites, freezing blueberries and smelling that faint lakeside breeze of spontaneity.

Julie Kaiser is a freelance writer and columnist living in Chatham, Ill.