I’m reading Phillip Lopate’s To Show and To Tell on writing literary nonfiction (which is something of what goes on here, though that seems a lofty title for it.) In it he says, “I grew up sensing that part of me was faking being a child; I felt I was already an old soul. Lots of people feel that, particularly those who will go on to become writers.” That is exactly how I felt when I was a child. That the things that were supposed to be fun did not seem fun at all.
Which is why I think I have less tolerance for my children during the summer. Yesterday, for the second time in twenty-four hours, I was watching one of their activities and a very pregnant woman walked by and I thought, “At least I’m not pregnant,” as if that were the most consolation that could be offered.
The boys are busy. Nearly as busy as children can be during the summer and not be under the direction of paid staff. Still, there’s loads of free time and they spend a lot of it watching television and playing electronic games. Which I hate. I can hardly say, “Go outside,” as they rarely see me go outside. I kept wanting to limit the amount of electronics but I kept wondering what it was that I wanted them to do.
What I did during the summer when I was a kid was read. Inside, in the air conditioning. Lots. Oh, I watched my fair share of “Gilligan’s Island” reruns and ate my weight in Nacho Cheese flavored Doritos, but mostly I read. And I realized that is what I want them to do. Read.
The younger ones have some reading assignments for school that they are working on. So does my oldest, the 16-year-old, but his requirements, two books, did not seem demanding enough.
“For the rest of the summer you need to read a book a week. I expect a report each Friday.”
“Huh.” Which is his response to nearly everything including, “I cannot stand your room another minute,” “Yes, your curfew is still eleven,” and “Do you ever check your balance because I just looked and you have fifty cents in your account.”
The following Friday I asked, “What book did you read this week?”
“Oh, yeah, I didn’t do that.”
“Yeah, I didn’t do that.”
“Go get your phone and your laptop.” Which got his attention.
So last Friday I asked again, “What book did you read this week?”
“Uh. There’s that book I’m working on. You know.”
“Working on? Did you finish it?”
“Finish it?! A whole book in a week?! I can’t read a whole book in a week!”
(I don’t like exclamation points, but as we had raised our voices, I don’t know how else to convey it.)
“You are busy about four hours a day! Maybe six! That leaves you ten hours! You could practically read a book a day!”
“I’ll go get my laptop.”
Which is exactly the spot I did not want us to be in. Arguing about something that in the short run is going to cause a lot of static and in the long run is going to make very little difference.
It was during a summer vacation the year before I was in sixth grade that I took my first shower. My mother took baths and so my sister and I took baths. I had not yet experienced the hell that is the gym shower. But on a vacation with a friend she stood outside a shower stall (there were no tubs) and assured me it would be fine. I have rarely wanted to take a bath since.
Until yesterday when the schedule and the heat and the jangly nerves of four people spending a lot of time together seemed to be too much and I thought, “What I really want is a bath.” I could not remember the last time I had wanted to fill a deep tub and sink down to my ears, my toe over the hateful spot that is designed to drain water so that the tub will not overflow if the spout is filling, but never could and only seeps away the desired depth that is necessary to keep the warmth up around your shoulders once the faucet is off.
Our house has two tubs, both perfectly fine for boys who mostly shower, but not one that would in any way provide the type of relief I sought. Normally I don’t think a thing about it, but last night it seemed the only thing that would wash away the day. It was then that I remembered that the last time I yearned for such relief was when I was expecting my youngest son. And I thought, “At least I’m not pregnant.”
Image, top, design by Jeffrey Bilhuber via Elle Decor.