The end of the school year is in some ways such a celebratory conflagration: end-of-the-year picnics heaped upon final committee meetings heaped upon final school projects heaped upon recitals, all set alight by the frantic desire of a mom who works at home during naps and spaces in the school day to get a few final things done.
This year, our May went up in a beautiful blaze, as quickly as dried wood and tinder, and then we hightailed it to the beach.
It’s glorious to have such a clean break between a family’s “on” season and its “off,” to plunge into summer and its laborious applications of sunscreen and bug spray as quickly as you dash from the skillet-hot sand at the beach into the first slap of opaque salty water.
The only drawback I can think of is that if you have your week away at the beginning of the summer you’re longing for another by its end.
But that is the most minor of complaints. We’re back in Atlanta now, the gardenia bush rooted six years ago from a twig cut from the one that perfumes the front yard of the house where I grew up is a riotous overly-fragrant excess of blossoms, the pom-poms of the hydrangeas droop in the heat as big and round and blue as dinner plates.
One of the things summer sometimes, happily gives me is some time for reading, and the day before we left for the beach I grabbed a novel I’d heard about from the new releases shelf at the library. Called The Ten-Year Nap, by Meg Wolitzer, it takes as its territory the New York stomping-grounds of the urban mom; the “nap” the title refers to is one the protagonist is — maybe — waking up from after having spent ten years as a stay-at-home parent.
It’s a smooth read, perfect for summer. Because it “has something to say” about the perennial stay-at-home/working parent debate, its characters can at times feel like chess pieces moved around a board in service of the author’s larger game, but the observations about parenthood are so spot on it’s hard to mind that the author might be working toward a particular conclusion.
A snippet, when a character realizes her husband has to work hard at listening as she recounts her day:
He couldn’t help it that he was only partly compelled by the world she had fashioned over the past ten years since she had left work and Mason had been born. That world could be absorbing yet was also pulled along by a current of tedium, and everybody knew it.
Children had a lot to do with it; they were the most fascinating part of it all, but mostly only to their parents or, depending on the particular aspect, sometimes only to their mothers or only to their fathers. You stayed around your children as long as you could, inhaling the ambient gold shavings of their childhood, and at the last minute you tried to see them off into life and hoped that the little piece of time you’d given them was enough to prevent them from one day feeling lonely and afraid and hopeless. You wouldn’t know the outcome for a long time.