Sunday, August 10, 2008

Slowing Summer Down


Every year I hold on tight and try to ride out January and February snowstorms, all the while dreaming of beaches, More realistically, I dream of going outside without a jacket or socks -- I wish I could live in shorts and flip flops.

I have memories of summers that seemed to last clear into the next year -- cartwheels on green grass, riding my bike to the local market for candy, 'laying out' for hours in the sun only to put my forearm up next to my mom and find that gardening always kept her more tan.

Before my parents remodeled their house, we had a porch swing. It was wooden, with white slats and little chain links that squeaked. I loved it. My mom, sisters and I used to sit outside and drink the drink my mom called 'orange juice ice' before the word 'smoothie' was invented. She liked hers with lots of mint. I tolerated the mint, but only because she made it. I liked the version I made with lots of yogurt and banana -- more like today's smoothies. I still remember sitting on the swing, the orange-banana tang on my lips, smelling breeze scented by fresh-mown grass.

What I remember most, though, is the feeling--hours of sunshine without any have-to's to end them. The phrase lazy summer days is cliche now, but it's becoming more of an urban myth. One friend carpooled with me to take my kids to a sports camp in Provo all last week. On Thursday, my turn to drive, she had to pick up her son in Provo, then drive to Salt Lake for a soccer competition. They didn't get home until after 10 pm. It's just one example of how our pace has changed. And I've started to wonder if that's part of what's making summer feel like it never quite exists.

A few years ago I decided to make summer memorable. I packed in extra field trips to the dinosaur museum, swimming in Provo, trips to Salt Lake. And got exhausted. That's when my mom said, "We never did this much in one summer. We only did one or two things each year." That got me thinking.

This summer, I had only a couple of goals. One of them was to buy a new swing. Not a suspended swing, though. The way my spouse and I are about mechanical stuff, we'd probably end up bringing the whole porch roof down. Or, more likely, the thing would be in pieces on the porch until 2010. Which, actually, is almost what happened with the swing I did find.

I have to back up a bit. Last year, I decided our empty backyard patio needed something. I went to Wal-Mart, got a swing on clearance. It only cost $49.95. The good side: Matt, our only mechanical one in the family, put it together in an hour. The bad side: I got thinking all swings could be put together, at least with Matt helping, in under two hours.

That item,incidentally, was only worth $49.95. The swing, being of rather lightweight metal that acted like a kite frame on windy days, and also being owned by Birkins (see not mechanical, above) didn't last through one whole season. So after seeing a really nice swing that my cousin Michele owned, I went out to find one of my own.

It took me two weeks and five stores to find one. I should have known this was not a two-hour parts and labor job. My first clue should have been when the store worker had to go find two other strong guys and a lift to get the swing-containing box off the shelf. My second clue should have been when it didn't fit in my car without collapsing both back seats and shoving the front passenger seat forward as far as possible. Still clueless, however, I took it home.

Matt unpacked it. Two hours later, it was still in pieces. Two days later, I asked Eric and his friend Sam to put it togehter. Three days later, after Matt fixed the wrong pieces they'd put together and added a few more right ones of his own, it was still mostly in pieces.

Matt told me, "Mom, this swing is really hard to put together."

"You can do it. Just keep trying," I said. I was really clueless.

Fortunately, my mom and dad came up to visit and take Matt fishing. Like usual, they turned their visit into a 'rescue Becca' trip. The pioneer skirts and bonnets I'd been struggling to make for the 24th of July children's parade were, thanks to my mother's creativity and skill, soon finished and looking cute.

[Emily and Megan, by the way, won a costume prize -- a giant Symphony bar, Emily's favorite.]

Matt, who'd been fishing with me four times and hadn't yet caught a fish, caught five with his grandfather.

After we came home from a nice lunch at Dairy Keen, my mom saw the swing, or rather the pieces of what might, sometime in 2010, be a swing. Anyone who knows my mom knows she can't stand an unfinished project. All three of us, with a little help from Matt, got to work. Hours and three trips to the hardware store later, it was finally finished. My poor dad looked exhausted. My mom had to be, too, although she didn't look it. I felt exahusted, but even more so, guilty -- they'd never want to visit if every trip became a major home improvement session like the last several had -- rearranging furniture in my new house, refinishing the banister and painting doorframes in my old house, now this.

Still, I was beyond grateful. I tend to rush through everything way too much. I'm feeling like I'd like to yank on the hands of time and grant myself and my kids at least three more weeks of summer. But if I could do that, maybe I could also make myself slow down too.

So tonight, as I was putting away zucchini bread [no, I did not make it] and trying to make the kids a quick smoothie before they went to bed, I did slow down. I left the bread where it was, left the berries on the counter, and went out to my swing. There I sat, the air tipped with the first hint of evening cool, and watched my daughters do cartwheels on the lawn. Maybe there's still time for some summer.