As my kids and I got ready to leave our house to spend some time at the pool Sunday before it closed for the season, I had a thought: summer isn’t like other seasons. “Duh,” you might say. “It’s hot. No other season is hot.” And you’d be right. It’s not the seasonal weather that makes summer unusual. All seasons have specific qualities that designate them as such. In that regard, summer isn’t different.
But my thought had nothing to do with the weather.
A little startled by the new idea floating in my brain, I filled my water bottle with ice and water in preparation to sit in the 100 degree heat for a couple hours. I planned to think more there, so I also stuck my journal into my pool bag. I’d be prepared in case inspiration came again.
And there at the pool as I sat in a lounge chair to dry off after a short swim, I wrote these words: summer isn’t just a season, it’s an event. Where other seasons tend to roll into each other without much fanfare except a small notation on a calendar and gradual shifts in weather patterns, when tied to a school system, summer has a distinct start and stop that has nothing to do with increased heat indices.
In this situation, summer is both a season and an event, and that’s what sets it apart. While other seasons have notable events and holidays, summer is in a league of its own. No other season is put on such a pedestal, at least in my family. In thinking this through, I realized it’s the end of summer the event we grieve in August, not the end of summer the season. In fact, summer the season will continue on through Sept. 22, but in a school-centered schedule, summer the event’s last day is Aug. 17.
Case in point: for us, summer starts the day after the last day of school, nevermind according to the calendar, mid-May is still spring. Summer the season doesn’t arrive until mid-June, but summer the event is marked by an alarm-free morning and a day of sweet nothingness if that’s what we so desire (and we do).
Before the end of May, while mornings are still cool and sometimes borderline cold, summer swim team practice begins – and if the participants are lucky, the pool heater will be on to minimize blue lips and chattering teeth. Often the weather will still be on the cool side the first day the pool opens for the season over the Memorial Day weekend.
Eventually summer weather catches up with the event and sitting poolside and all the other hot-weather activities make sense.
To be honest, summer as a season is probably my least favorite. I got heat-illness as a child and since then, I’ve never been able to tolerate extended periods in the heat. I enjoy the heat for one activity – going to the pool. But summer as an event? I love it. Except when it’s time to say goodbye.
Over the last week, resignation has gained the upper hand around my house. School’s coming and there’s nothing to do but accept the truth. Even though the calendar still says it’s summer and the weather agrees, the start of a new school year signifies a change. Summer the event is over.
When August begins, there’s no denying the shift. Instead of people asking what my kids are doing this summer, they begin asking if my kids are ready for school. (The answer is resoundingly, no. That’s where resignation comes in). The first part of summer is full of beginnings and possibilities. The close of summer is full of lasts accompanied by a dull, mournful ache. It’s funny how the “lasts” of a school year are celebrated, but the “lasts” of summer are not.
Friday, after a week of debating whether we’d go or not, husband Brad and I decided to take our family to one last Royals baseball game at Kauffman Stadium before school starts. We left mid-afternoon to catch a rare homestand match-up against the Los Angeles Dodgers, enjoyed summer fireworks after the game (something that’s become something of a summer tradition but up to that point, we hadn’t done as a family in 2022) and then we drove home. Nevermind that we got home close to 2 a.m., we squeezed in one more summer thing before it was too late.
We made sure to use our pool pass every day for its final week of regular hours. Sunday marked the last day and we lingered until closing time. It’s the first I remember being at the pool for the final “the pool is now closed” pronouncement of the season and it caught my heart in a sad, tender way. After all, I’ve realized, the quick passing of summer is just a snippet of the quick passing of time.
It wasn’t all that long ago that Brad and my oldest geared up for her first day of kindergarten. She loved horses and wore a horse skirt, matching horse shirt and sparkly purple Toms. Now she’s starting high school, and that catches my heart, too.
Our middle daughter will be in seventh grade and starts organized school sports. As a kindergartener she carried a backpack covered in colorful kittens; now she has a new duffle bag to accompany her on game days. Our youngest will begin his final year at the elementary school as a fifth grader. A backpack, once altogether too large, now fits him well.
The end of summer the event magnifies these transitions. I know my kids are doing what they’re supposed to. They are growing up, maturing, learning. They’re following a natural progression. But summer’s end has a way of hammering the truth home: this whole parenting thing is going fast and it might take my heart a moment to catch up.
Malinda Just has been writing Lipstick & Pearls for the Free Press since 2008. To read more of her writing, visit her blog, www.malindajust.com, or find her on social media @MalindaDJust.