January 22, 2019
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End of summer means no more catching the kids eating birdseed

Erin Donovan

Summer is coming to a close. It doesn’t seem like it is as the sun blazes high in the sky above Maine. The grass bends and sways, and the surf sends tepid water up the stretches of pebbled sand. The bedsheets are fragrant with the perfume of sunscreen. With the birdsong that plays upon the wind, I have heard, “I’m hungry,” 300 times a day for months now.

I want to love summer. I really do. I want to relish the lazy way time passes and how nothing arrives with necessity or import. I want to delight in having both nothing to do and everything as options. After all, I loved summer as a child. I would have chosen nothing above those days spent languishing in front of Phil Donahue on TV, sustained by a towering pile of Snackwell’s cookies. Once shooed outside by my mother, I would fall in with the roving bands of neighborhood kids, aimlessly seeking Slurpees and sunburns, until the sky turned dark.

I knew the business of summer had changed when the only question I fielded from my fellow school parents on the last day of school was, “Which camps are you signing up for?” Pamphlets featuring bright-eyed children engaged in soccer, crafts, kayaking and movement involving neon vests were traded on the school grounds with the sort of clamor and panic reserved for the bread lines of Soviet Russia. I shrugged my shoulders and offered consolation about the nutritional value of popsicles and the abundance of plastic kiddie pools on sale at Walmart. I clasped the fingers of my three toddlers and walked away, chin tilted upward in determination, certain I could wring the fun out of summer. A hand grabbed my elbow, and I turned to face a friend whose face was creased with worry, her eyes wide with gravity.

“You know, you can sign them up for church camp,” she whispered into my ear. “It’s free and you don’t have to be a part of their congregation.”

It was evident that no one believed I could usher three young children through the ambling hours of summer without making myself crazy. Or making them Baptist.

In a moment of Internet kismet later that day, I stumbled across the gone-viral video of a young kid forced to wait out the summer in the stuffy back room of his father’s auto parts store. This boy, left to his own devices to combat boredom, summoned all the energy and ingenuity coiled inside young minds to create an intricate carnival arcade fashioned entirely from cardboard boxes and tape.

If neglect could spawn that kind of creativity, it was my parental imperative to overlook everything beyond basic needs this summer. I would let my friends invest in costly camps led by instructors with a serotonin imbalance. I was going to ignore my kids, by God, and the result would be majestic. Michelangelo. Mount Rushmore.

The next day, I quietly locked the glass sliding door and backed slowly away, careful not to disrupt the act of fission that was about to occur among the three kids. I loaded the dishwasher, struggling to keep myself from stealing a glance at the backyard, which was surely being turned into the cradle of a new civilization, a modern Mesopotamia. After 22 minutes, I could take it no more. I opened the back door, prepared to admire the industry. And there they were. Eating birdseed.

I soon tired of locking them in the yard, particularly as it became clear that the only architectural marvel they might devise was a battering ram to gain entry to the house and the contents of the refrigerator. So we defected to the beach and remained there for the next 12 weeks. It took awhile for us all to find our footing. To accept that we’d ingest more sand than food. To appreciate that the same old patch of waterfront could offer new adventures each day. To trust that there would be at least one family dressed in normal bathing suits to buddy up to. To value the pleasure in empty hours.

School is starting next week, an event I might have overlooked since I set my calendar on fire two months ago. I am reminded only by the twinkle in the eyes of the parents I pass in town. That glimmer fades into horror when they hear that our summer slipped by without scheduled activity. They look upon us the way people do the survivors of sunken watercraft. In some ways, I feel like one. Lucky to have come out the other side and curiously recharged and recalibrated by the experience. But, still, ready to get back to trappings of real time.

Especially the talk shows.

Erin Donovan moved with her family to the midcoast area where she constantly is told she says the word “scallops” incorrectly. She performs live and produces Web sketches derived from her popular humor blog I’m Gonna Kill Him. Follow her misadventures on http://imgonnakillhim.bangordailynews.com/ and on Twitter at @gonnakillhim.

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