The end of summer

The end of summer is always sad. I remember the stomach-sick feeling I used to get as a girl before heading back to school every fall. My days went from being mine, to being owned by clocks, buses, teachers. When I became a teacher, each new school year meant that my days went from being mine, to being owned by clocks, grading, students. Now, as a mother, I don’t mourn that my days are no longer mine; I mourn that they are no longer my son’s. I will go to work, and he will go to his new school. He will cry as I leave, and I will cry in the car — and hopefully not in front of my classroom full of seniors.

I guess I should acknowledge, though, how fortunate I am that Finn, Keith, and I are able to spend entire summers together in the first place. The truth is that throughout July and August, we’ve been inseparable. Staying in the South Florida heat this time of year can be stifling, but we still stayed cool playing around at home and splashing around in whatever water we could find. We took a few trips to a local waterpark with a giant toddler pool and waterslides, took dips at friends’ and relatives’ homes, and took advantage of resort pools on a couple of mini-vacations. Finn can’t swim, but went from tentative to fearless pretty quickly, shouting “One, two, three, UNDERWATER!” before jumping in.

When there wasn’t a real pool around, we used a tacky, little blow-up in the backyard. Finn splashed around by himself, and Gram added a little extra refreshment with a hose:

This was definitely a family-oriented summer, filled with regular visits with Finn’s grandparents, twin cousins, aunts and uncles. He was even lucky enough to get a face-t0-face visit from Abuela and Abuelo, with whom he normally chats via Skype on Sundays. This 4th of July, instead of blowing kisses at a computer screen, Finn watched fireworks in my father’s arms:

Then at the end of July, we took off first to spend time with family in the Keys, where Finn saw boats and dolphins…

and while visiting the other side of the family at a resort in Orlando, Finn, Keith, and I pushed hotel beds together and slept in later than we have since Finn was born:

In the sleep department in general, things have improved. Finn is finally sleeping through the night more frequently, although he still fiercely fights naptime on a daily basis. No matter how tired he is, he is much too interested in what’s going on around him to retire to a dark room filled with the relaxing sound of ocean waves. Recently, I tried to explain what dreams are, and how much fun he can have after he closes his eyes. “You can close your eyes and pretend whatever you want!” I said. “You can pretend to fly to the moon!” He quickly became excited about other possibilities: “Drive garbage truck!” he yelled. “Swim with dolphins!” I suggested instead. “Drive firetruck! Sirens on it!” he corrected. “Drive dump truck! Peanut butter in it!”

This has indeed been a truck-filled summer, much to my constant torture and, I’ll admit, pleasure. I never imagined that I would ever feel proud of the fact that my son can distinguish between a baler and a harvester, or that I would feel a surge of joy at the sudden sight of a cement truck, street sweeper, or firetruck. Trucks are always a main topic of conversation around here — as they have been for some time. What’s changing is Finn’s increasing tendency to PRETEND they are everywhere. A piece of silverware at the table becomes a forklift. Stuffed animals become passengers of various vehicles. A toy wagon becomes a firetruck, its handle a ladder:

I know how lucky I am that I’ve had so much time to watch Finn imagine, grow, learn this summer. Now, at 22 months, he not only knows his letters, but can usually tell me what letter a word starts with when he hears it. He often fills in words and finishes sentences when we’re reading familiar books. He connects his nouns and verbs with prepositions. He can distinguish between a violin, a piano, an organ, a guitar, and a saxophone when listening to music. And although I’m not sure whether it’s because he’s communicating and understanding so well, or because of all the “time in” we’ve had together, I’m relieved to report that he rarely bites or hits these days.

Our summer days together are over, yes… but they have served us — and Finn — very well.

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Heavy

Today, Finn found a feather outside, and seemed so happy… just hours after screaming his lungs out for an hour-and-a-half straight. It was his first half-day of “summer camp” at the Montessori school he’ll start attending in a few weeks. It was his first time being left with strangers.

Keith and I sat with him in his classroom as he excitedly explored every mechanism of a dump truck, then a fire truck. We waited thirty minutes — longer than the time “allowed” by the school — then said we’d be leaving for a little while, said we’d be back soon, said goodbye. He seemed okay until we got to the door, and then he ran after us already in tears. “Mommy! Daddy!” he shrieked and cried. We reassured him and then walked out, as we were told we should. As I cried more quietly on the other side of the closed door, we waited to see when he would stop. He didn’t. His teachers tried singing to him, playing with him, offering him snacks. He kept screaming. I kept crying.

“If you go in to get him, he’ll win,” a teacher in the hallway said. “You don’t have to leave him for the duration. Come back in an hour. That way he’ll learn that you always come back.” So we left, dragging ourselves away. I felt guilty of desertion, abandonment. I wondered what long-lasting psychological damage Finn might suffer as a result.

That phrase, “Mommy always comes back,” doesn’t seem to work. But coming back does. An hour later, we went back into the school and stood outside the door again, where we could still hear him screaming “Mommy! Daddy!” with exactly the same intensity. When we calmly re-entered the room, Finn’s pleading became an exclamation — mid-phrase. He ran over and asked “Mommy, up?” And then it was over, and with snots and tears still covering his face, he began talking as if nothing had happened.

After I watched Finn singing on the way home, laughing in his bedroom, running with a feather, I marveled at his resilience. Then an hour ago, Finn woke screaming and whimpering, something he hasn’t done much this month.

People keep saying “It’s harder on you than it is on him.” I don’t think so. This is heavy, very heavy for my little man. I wish I wish I wish I could make it lighter.