Summer Nights

Me and a friend in 1974!

I remember when a summer night was an excuse to get out of the house, find the nearest outdoor bar with ambiance (or not), drink Long Island Tea or Screwdrivers or Scotch & Soda with a twist…or whatever. It was party, party, all the time! And somehow, the next morning, I made it to work, and did a fairly good job managing the hangover.

Now I look back, scratching my head. How on earth did I do that?

I was in my twenties. That’s how.

In my thirties, I started having babies. And divorces. My thirties were a blur of joy and crisis, so I can’t even remember much of them. Summer nights meant getting the kids to bed, the bills paid, the house clean, and still having energy left over to read before bed. This was my recipe for a great summer night in my thirties!

My beautiful kids circa 2003

In my forties, I began to gain a semblance of sanity. And my kids became teen-agers. At this point, I began to drink wine, exclusively. No more cute, little, designer drinks that looked good but made me throw up. Wine, I could control. Summer nights amounted to a few lake weekends with girlfriends, and marathon talks with teen-agers, trying to instill common sense into all those hormones. Ha! Ha! What a futile task. But I did my best, and a great summer night was a relaxed discussion on the deck with one or two of my teen-agers.

In my fifties, I had the best time ever. My kids were grown and gone or going; I discovered online dating, I had a great job, I’d learned to recognize and avoid toxic relationships. My summer nights were spent on my backyard deck, drinking good wine (by this time I’d become somewhat fluent), and having marathon conversations with other single moms about kids, men, and, well…mostly, men. How to tell the right ones from the wrong ones, which sounds simple, but isn’t.

Now in my sixties, I find that summer nights are for chats with my husband on the deck. Embracing the starlight. Enjoying a full moon and high tide coming into a Lowcountry marsh. Never forgetting bug spray. (It is interesting to me that when I was young I didn’t give a thought to getting a hundred mosquito bites, but now, I cover up with bug spray every, single day in the summer.) Summer nights are for…being still. Appreciating what I have, and laying aside regrets. Summer nights now reek of contentment, and appreciative, secret smiles.

However, I’m amazed at how much I miss fireflies.

When we moved to Hilton Head Island from Baltimore in 2015, I never gave life without fireflies a thought. I assumed fireflies were all over the place. Maryland, and everywhere I’d lived before, had spectacular firefly displays every spring and summer. I am still saddened by their absence. They are tiny, summer jewels – nature’s sparklers. Now, I settle for a flock of ibis in the yard, or the squawk of herons flying overhead. Egrets camping down for the night in a tree.

I guess that’s a good trade-off.

I ponder my deck on the back of our house and the light bulbs so carefully chosen and staple-gunned in place underneath the eaves to illuminate the night. I guess it was automatic…get the deck ready for a party…and now, I think…what was the point? We hardly use them.

I think that God…all this time…has been waiting to show me the rewards, the simple pleasures, the earned delights…of surviving all the previous decades and alighting with determination and grace into this one.

Summer nights now, are for softer things. Quieter things.

Like fireflies.

Or in my case, egrets.

The Blessing of Adult Children

I have fond memories of child-rearing. At least I think I do. I had four children in seven years. What was I thinking?

My kids were interesting exercises in self-awareness for me. For example, I confronted multiple distressing character issues while cleaning poop off the child, the crib sheets and wall at 2:30 a.m.

I trained them to sleep through the night easily, but potty training was a different story. After several attempts, I decided they were training me to put them on the potty at appropriate intervals. I didn’t see the point of putting the child on the potty until they actually made a connection. And I didn’t want pee-pee on my carpet, either. So they wore diapers until they got it.

As a wise woman once said, “I never saw a kid start school in diapers.”

They are now, at ages 28, 26, 23 and 21 — potty trained.

Hormone-laden teens...my daughters a few years ago...

Adolescence took me completely by surprise. The first one to hit this phase was female, and hysteria-ridden drama punctuated our home for years. (Two girls + five years apart = wildly fluctuating hormones and unavailable bathrooms for seven years.) I wasn’t sure I was going to survive, because by nature I am not a patient woman.

The boys shrugged their way through adolescence by becoming as invisible and silent as ghosts. A conversation with an adolescent boy goes something like this:

“Hi honey, how was school today?”

“Mmmmph.”

Goes into his bedroom and closes the door. Mom follows and tries again. Sits on the bed beside him.

She reaches out and tousles his hair fondly. Bad idea. He jerks his head away and fixes her with the evil eye. She remembers the cardinal rule of all adolescent boys, which is to not touch them. Especially in public.

My sons in their non-communicative (mostly) stage

Gamely, she continues, hands safely in her lap, “Well, how are you doing today? Got homework?”

He sighs. Looks out the window. Decides he is trapped. “Yep.” He glances at her, silently communicating his desire to be alone. His eyes are steely. His mouth is set in a firm line. She gives up and exits, mumbling something about dinner.

At least I could get the girls to talk. The boys did not give me a complete sentence for three years.

Late last summer,  Wal-Mart was crammed with stressed moms filling their carts with school supplies, and my mind jogged back in time to buying this stuff for four kids at once. I grinned as I scuttled past the three-ring binders, folders with pockets, index cards and highlighters without picking up a single item. Moms began to eye me strangely when I raised both my hands and silently mouthed “hallelujah.”

Presently my kids live on each coast and in between. Three of them are self-supporting, which is downright magical. My girls call me constantly, and their hormones have stabilized. My boys call frequently and I cannot get them to shut up.

On any given day I am invited to participate in various segments of their lives that would have been fiercely guarded a few years ago. Each of them begs us to move closer to them. I am delighted to find they paid attention, at least sometimes, to rants of mine that did, indeed, contain seeds of wisdom.

I find the whole process highly entertaining.

I now have four gifted, beautiful and adorable grandchildren.

I can’t wait to see what happens when these kids hit puberty. I will  murmur things to their parents like “I understand,” or “NO! Really? How could that happen?,” or “The school counselor said WHAT? Oh my goodness!,” and then I will snicker silently into the phone and thank God that these issues  are over for me.

Seriously.

Unusual Twist in Family Drama

Individual viewpoints seldom reveal the whole story.

Ask any mother.

I find it hilarious to try to sort out truth from fiction when talking with my grown kids, and sometimes don’t even try. This is a victory of sorts, because at this point I do not necessarily have to become deeply involved in kid drama, but can kind of wave my regards from the top of “not my problem anymore” mountain.

The most dramatic and heartfelt viewpoints come from my grown girls, who are 21 and 27.=

From one daughter I hear about new puppies, my six-year-old granddaughter and marital experiences. From the other (who is single) I hear about job adjustments, living arrangements, and multiple boyfriends. Since they have such different lifestyle experiences at this point in their lives, it can be quite daunting when they decide to spend time together.

Daughter No. 1, for instance, sometimes may come across as far superior in wisdom, life experience and insights into dating relationships, having lived an entire six years longer than Daughter No. 2. Besides, Daughter No. 1 is married and has a baby, and we all know this causes immediate maturity.

Daughter No. 2 is strong headed, opinionated and a classic Type A personality, and would rather slit her wrists than listen to prolonged instruction from Daughter No. 1. She tolerates it for a little while, but eventually her impatience runneth over.

Last week I received phone calls approximately 24 hours apart that might have come from different planets.

Daughter No. 1: “Mom? Are you busy?” My ears perk up because this always signals a longer than usual conversation which, as all parents know, translates to a need for money, or a need to vent or both. I put down my book, sigh and give her my complete attention.

She continues, “I just do not know what is up with (Daughter No. 2)! I have been visiting her for a week and she was so excited about me coming and NOW…” her voice trails off as she gathers a fresh head of steam, “…she is just so insensitive!”

I listen to her litany of grievances about her comments, reserving judgment, knowing these girls love each other, but a week in a confined space with a six-year-old, a small dog and limited finances would drive anybody crazy.

I murmur reassurances and hang up the phone, hoping they’d get past it.

The next morning, I see Daughter No. 2’s number appear on my cell phone. I quickly add up the number of hours since talking with Daughter No. 1, and conclude that enough time has elapsed to patch things up, but this probably has not happened or they would be out doing fun things together instead of calling me.

Daughter No. 2: “Mom? Are you busy?” I pour myself a cup of coffee and sit down. “Mom, I cannot believe how sensitive (Daughter No. 1) is being! I didn’t say anything awful, and she acts like I hit her or something! She is always like this. I am SICK of it. What is her deal anyway?”

I listen to her list of grievances, mutter words of appeasement and conciliatory wisdom, and hang up.

I make the sneaky and calculated decision to call them individually, pretending I do not know the other side of the story, and make generic love-and-unity statements wrapped in a Bible verse or two, then sweetly ask about other things to get their minds off wanting to rip each other’s throats out.

As a mature, wise and rather well-rounded survivor of relational conflicts, I feel I have the credentials to do things like this.

I think about how much time it takes to develop a simple little thing called “patience.” Years and years. Decades. At their ages, simply shutting their mouths would be a good start, before words tumble out that scorch their relationship.

I was creating a sage and lofty mom-document along these lines in preparation to private message them on Facebook when my cell jangled. My hands froze in mid-keystroke. It was Daughter No. 1.

Sometimes kid-drama has an unusual twist.

“Mom!” Different tone. One I didn’t quite recognize.

“I’m pregnant!”

My mind raced back to the heated arguments and sensitivity issues. Hormones. The culprit behind the drama had been hormones!

I smiled, deleted the mom-document, and thanked God this proclamation had come from the married one and not the single one.

I laughed my congratulations into the phone.