The other night, we were burning old sticks and other yard waste in our fire pit out back. The fire has a way of mesmerizing us and slowly each member of our little family came to stand around the growing flame. The yard fell quiet and we watched.
After a few minutes, Noah said, "Dad, if I started to fall in... could you still run to catch me like you did when I was little?"
Wistful smiles lit all our faces.
We have this story that we tell from a camping trip we took when Noah was very little. He was, in fact, so little that his feet did not reach the ground when seated in a tiny folding (bag) chair. On the day of the occurrence, we were sitting around a campfire with our family and friends while Mark stepped away to grab more wood from a nearby pile. Noah decided to get off his tiny chair and because he had shifted his weight, the whole chair began to fall toward the fire. Mark looked up just in the nick of time and, dropping the wood he was carrying, jumped forward and caught Noah before he fell hands and face into the fire! It was a scary moment for all and a moment I am still left grateful for my husband's quick reflexes.
But, over the years the story has grown...
"And dad, who was way on the other side of our campsite, jumped over everything to save your life..."
"And dad, who was walking back from the camp store, sensed danger and ran to you just in time to save your life..."
"And dad, who was driving back from the next county, ditched the car and FLEW to your side to save your life..."
"And dad, who was in Australia, seeing the Sydney Opera House, challenged the bounds of time and space and used his amazing intuition to know he was needed at the campsite and came to your just in time to save your life..."
For 14 of Noah's 16 years, we have told and retold that story. Always around a fire. Always when we are together. Always a little different, a little bigger than the time before.
But, we never tell it in the car. Or at a game. Or at a school event. Or while doing chores, or homework, or projects. The stuff of family lore grows up out of slow times, out of down times, out of TIME that is spent and time that we have...
This is stuff of summer.
We have been given this gift of time. And while it may be overwhelming now that our toes are in the tide of it, there is wonder to be found if we can keep far from the risk of drowning in the very thing we seek.
1. Do not over-plan. After a school year of busy nights and days, we need to allow for some time to sit. We need to allow for time to hang in the backyard and sit still and be together. Society has pushed an ideal that we must always be DOING SOMETHING. Oh, what a lie this is! Sometimes, we need to pull a chair into the driveway, throw out some sidewalk chalk and sit with our kids nearby. Sometimes, we need to lay a blanket on the grass and watch the lightning bugs fly. Sometimes, we need to build a fire and sit together and watch the flames lick down the logs. We need to tell stories and be quiet. We need to remember and build memories. And we need to know that all memories do not come from events... some grow beautifully in the nothingness of a warm summer evening.
2. Be flexible! Last weekend, I had a planned a grilled dinner for Father's Day followed by a campfire and s'mores in the backyard. Mark and all the kids were coming home from a soccer tournament that Noah played in all weekend. They were tired. They were hot. And after we ate that wonderful meal, not one of them wanted to sit next to a roaring fire and do anything. So, we didn't. Instead, the little ones had long, cool showers and we watched a favorite program and we relaxed together inside. Sometimes our visions for what that together time should look like will be more cumbersome than we hope. Relax. Be together. If that is the goal, let the details fall where they will.
3. Remember that little things count. As families across the nation plan elaborate vacations and expensive outings, it is easy to feel like this is what summer should resemble. Whenever I am tempted to fall prey to that mindset, I remember a conversation I had with Noah a few years back. It was the end of an uneventful spring break and I was standing by the barbecue talking with my boy. We had not gone on vacation and I was feeling a bit disappointed about not DOING more with my kids. Out of the blue, Noah began to talk about how he loves when we are home for spring break. Shocked, I asked him to tell me more. He explained that what he wanted was time... down time. He wanted to be with his family at home. And when we rush around all the time, he misses that. I call that conversation to mind from time to time in an effort to remind myself that little things count. In fact, sometimes the little things are actually the big things. Look for them... allow for them.... Take a walk together. Sit together and read. Ride bikes. BE. If you have 15 minutes and a bit of energy left at the end of the day, you can spend a bit of time with your family sharing a summer night.
A few years ago, we were driving home from visiting friends and stopped at a beach to let the kids stretch their legs and put their toes in the water. We had our dog, Lexie, with us. She had never been in Lake Michigan before. For about an hour and a half, my kids splashed in the lake. They laughed out loud at Lexie's swimming ability. Toes in the water became shoulders in the water and they loaded back into the van, wrapped in towels, tired and happy. To hear them talk about that experience, you would think we were gone for a week. That brief stop at the beach has become a vacation to them and it cost us not a thing. But, it was a gift of time. It was a gift of yes in the midst of a long car ride. It was just us together and they LOVED it.
There is a time and a place for vacations and get-aways. Yes, they matter too. But these three months of summer offer us something bigger than trips and experiences. It offers us the space we need to sit still, to look--really look--into the faces of our kids and see them anew. There is no homework to be done, no pressing project, just bits of time in which we can choose to be together in ways that the rest of the year makes tricky.