Last week marked the official end to summer. This was old news to many of us who said goodbye to summer weeks ago. Perhaps at the exact moment we were photographing our children (looking the best they will look all year long) holding their Pinterest-inspired first day of school signs. We have already grudgingly readjusted to the strictures of routine and schedule and simultaneously given up caring what they look like when they go to school. Nearly one month in to the school year, my boys left the house looking as if they had not brushed their hair in 4 days. And last week I let them wear stripes on stripes. Don’t judge.
Saying goodbye to summer is never easy for me, but this year it was more painful than most. Maybe because it all ended just as soon as it had begun. I spent July and August doing a a litany of things I never wanted to do. And yet, in some ways, my father’s death gave us impunity from obligations and expectations that allowed us to do exactly what we wanted. Playing. Swimming. Exploring. Building. More swimming. Even when things are bad, there is magic in a summer night. There is freedom in summer indolence. There is romance in a summer storm. And there is joy in learning outside the classroom.
Here’s what I learned on my summer vacation:
I learned a lot of silly things.
I learned that there is no greater joy in a boy’s life than the exhilaration of peeing outside. There is no sense in trying to curb it – just accept it.
I learned that Boogie boarding never gets old. We, however, do. Pick a bathing suit accordingly. My sincere apologies to the lovely family from Quebec who shared the beach with us the day I learned this.
I learned that if you can manage to simultaneously catapult and flip a 7 year old through the air in the pool, you will be lauded as the greatest human being on the planet. You’re welcome.
I also learned a lot of practical things.
I learned that boredom is good. It is, in fact, the best thing in the world because it is only from boredom that we invent new games (like baseball bowling), or roam through the backyard pretending to be Lewis and Clark exploring new worlds, or discover what combination of foods produces the loudest burps. Boredom is the mother of imagination.
I learned that swimming in the pool every day is a perfectly acceptable alternative to showering. Look, if I could share a pool with a bevy of toddlers – all of whom had a rotating variety of ailments – and not get sick once, then chlorine is doing a far better job than the bar of Dove sitting in my shower.
I learned that organic suntan lotion is thicker and less absorbent than glue. It is also about as effective as glue when it comes to preventing sunburn.
I learned a lot of things that I thought I already knew. I was wrong.
I learned that Tony Bennett and the UVA Men’s Basketball program are more amazing than even I had imagined. And that’s saying something.
I learned that it sucks when your dad dies. In some ways, this was the most surprising discovery. As much as I thought I could anticipate this moment, as much as I believed I knew how it would feel, I utterly failed to appreciate the enormity of losing a parent. It doesn’t matter whether it was sudden or expected. It is irrelevant how old you are or how many years you had together. You are never prepared for the sense of loneliness that washes over you when you realize that the person who knows you and loves you better than anyone else in the world – more than your friends, more than your spouse, more than your children – is no longer there. You are never ready to be parentless.
I learned that family isn’t just defined by bloodlines. It is the collection of people you have cobbled together from many small moments over many years. Moments of joy and heartbreak but mostly all the mundane moments in between. One that was created by choice. Although I have firmly believed this my entire life, only now do I truly understand what it means. When your world changes, they are the people who drop everything to rush in and fill that empty space. With notes and phone calls and visits and massive quantities of chocolate. With their presence. It’s not what they do. It’s where they are.
But the most important thing I learned this summer was that I do not have a single regret.
That’s not to say I’m a perfect person. I certainly don’t lead a perfect life. My house is always messy. I am perpetually late. I forget things. I procrastinate. I love food too much to ever look good in a bathing suit. There is no filter between my brain and my mouth. I am loud and opinionated. I am, in short, not for everyone.
But I could not care less.
Because I have always been exactly the me that I want to be. And that me is someone who loves hard, even if it breaks my heart. That me is someone who says exactly what she feels at the exact moment she feels it, regardless of the fallout. That me is someone who unapologetically loves every single moment of being a parent – even the really hard ones – because I would rather be with my boys than do anything else on the planet.
So when I stopped to think about whether I had any regrets, my answer was unequivocally no. Everything that has happened in my life – the good and the bad – has been the result of me being me.
In the weeks after my dad died, I felt nothing except an enormous sense of gratitude that we, as a family, had lived every moment of our lives together fully and completely. I don’t remember whether our house was messy growing up but I do remember that we had dinner together every night. I don’t remember whether I was late to school but I do remember that my parents were at every performance, every swim meet, every presentation. I don’t remember what my parents looked like in a bathing suit but I do remember they were always in the water with us instead of just sitting in a chair watching. I don’t recall what kind of cars they had, but I remember that they drove carpool for 10 years just so they could have an extra 20 minutes to talk to us each day. I couldn’t tell you what honors or accolades they received but I recall as plain as day that there was nothing that was ever more important to them than we were. We took every opportunity to be with each other, to enjoy each other. We loved hard. Every single moment.
That is the same legacy I want to leave my children. Love hard. Every single moment. Say everything you want to say. Every single time. And you’ll never have to carry the burden of regret.