This summer has not been one for the memory books. There have been no grand adventures. No vacations, no airports, no tortuously long road trips in which we stop for snacks and bathroom breaks more often than we drive. In fact, just this afternoon, my rising third grader, draped over the couch like she’d slipped from a Renaissance painting, announced that she would rather be in school. Even my preschooler has taken to shuffling through the house, her admissions of boredom barely audible over the roar of the air conditioner.
On the one hand, I fear I’ve ruined summer. But on the other hand, I am so pleased with our stasis that I don’t really care. With each formless day that passes, I see our summer boredom as this delicious, sacred thing — an invisible barrier I’ve sprung up to keep out the anxieties of the outside world. Here, safely cocooned inside this do-nothing-ness, there is very little to fear — not the massacre of 19 children inside a Texas classroom; not the snuffing out of seven lives along a parade route in Illinois. After what seems like a full year of national tragedies (the shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde, and Highland Park, just to start), I am desperate to keep my children within reach. I am desperate to quiet the shell-shocked voice inside of me that wonders if they will come home at the end of the day.
I suppose this is why I’ve transformed into some sort of seasonal captor — a woman on par with the Summer Witch, a character from one of my favorite childhood stories, The Snow Queen. This witch inhabits a lush, enchanted garden within the thick of a wintry forest. As anyone might, the heroine, on the way to rescue her brother, wanders into the garden for warmth. No sooner does the heroine shut the gate behind her than the Summer Witch goes to work enchanting her. Hellbent on forcing her to stay inside the garden, the Summer Witch erases the girl’s memory, keeping her carefree and aimless for years at her side.
It should be telling that I have never once questioned the witch’s morals. Rather, I have longed to find my own version of that summer garden — a place so serene it might suspend tragedy; a place so peaceful it might strip away all sense of urgency. For now, this summer stasis will do.
Here in this unhurried season, we have very little on our calendar. My girls and I snuggle in bed well after their dad has signed into his virtual meetings in the next room. We wander out into the yard, often still in our pjs, eager to see what has bloomed in the early morning light. We chalk up the front walk, blow bubbles from the porch swing, occasionally invite a friend to splash around in the small pool. Meanwhile, I struggle to squeeze in work between sister fights and endless snack requests, and I am almost always prying someone away from the Nintendo Switch.
Ours is the sort of summer break that drives other moms to the edge. I’ve gathered that much from social media and the throngs of parents clamoring to get their kids back to the classroom. In my local moms’ group, one mom started a countdown to the first day of school — a post that was met with cheers and champagne emojis. All across the neighborhood, and I’d assume every neighborhood across the country, parents are ready to practically catapult their children from their homes.
All I can think to do in response is to gape in jealous wonder. “How do you do it?” I want to say. “What do you do with all this fear?” I long to ask. “What sort of animal strength do you summon to survive as a mother these days?” I want to beg. And perhaps most desperately: “How do I find it for myself?”
I know summer cannot last forever. In just a few weeks, I will have to push open the garden gate and head back through the wintry forest to face my deepest fears. Soon, I will once again be annoyed by the rigors of the school year: the uniforms to iron and the lunches to pack. I will pretend to be calm and breezy, wearing my imaginary peace like a life jacket. I will let go of tiny hands with a smile on my face, and kiss foreheads before they disappear behind school doors. Logically, I understand all of this is coming.
But for now, no countdowns. No champagne emojis for me. Let me stay here in summertime just a bit longer, these little hands in mine and a sea of flowers at our feet.
Lizzie Duszynski-Goodman is a writer and editor living in the Midwest with her husband and two young children. Her work explores the intersection of mental health and parenting and has appeared in Forbes Health, The Everymom, Cubby, and other publications. She is the editorial director at Mother Untitled.