I had really high expectations for this summer. I wanted it to be just like the exultant summer of 2010: the days all sand and salt water and the nights starry skies and ice cream. This summer we went to the beach a lot, we went out for ice cream regularly, and still it wasn't the same.
I blamed myself for this. Who complains about having over two solid months off to lie on the beach and gorge on ice cream? Apparently I do, and so clearly I deserve a large chunk of the blame.
I'm embarrassed to admit that I also blamed my kids at times, because whereas they skipped hand in hand through last summer, they have spent much of this summer at odds with each other. Just the other day Big E came to me exasperated and reported that Little E was "breathing down her neck". As I tried to patiently explain to her how much her little sister looks up to her and loves to spend time with her despite how intrusive it might feel at times, Little E came in and began to actually pant heavily and noisily on Big E's neck, which is apparently what she had been doing all along. If not the kids themselves, their newly minted sibling rivalry deserves a bit of the blame.
I blamed last year's part-time schedule, too. The school year that preceded 2010's summer included some of the actual worst days of my life. In contrast to that, the summer felt more than fun and relaxing; it felt triumphant. This past school year, I spent my mornings teaching students who were usually interesting and almost always entertaining, and I spent my afternoons focusing on my family in a way that satisfied me and smoothed over a lot of the guilt I've felt since I first put Big E in daycare seven years ago. I didn't need the time off half as much this summer as I did last summer, and thus I didn't enjoy it as much. So, I blame part-time, though not so much that I'm not happy to do it again this year.
The biggest culprit, though, didn't reveal itself to me fully until a week ago in the lunchbox aisle at Target. It was there that I had to gently talk Big E out of choosing the same doggy-shaped lunch bag as Little E. I told her that I was afraid she might grow out of it and change her mind about it once it was too late to get another. What I really meant was that much as I would love it if she could carry a dog-shaped lunch bag for the rest of her school days, much as I swear to one day fulfill the request she made a few years ago that I live in her dorm room when it's time for her to go away to college, I cannot stand the thought of the other second-graders laughing at her too young lunch bag. She ended up settling on a pink splash-painted number that she seems happy with, but I'm still hating myself for pushing her, even in a small way, to grow up any faster than she wants to.
I realized that it is all the growing up I saw this summer that has really kept it from measuring up to last summer. This summer I reluctantly packed up Little E's toddler bed, I nervously sent Big E on a five-day trip to Michigan with my parents, and I bravely fought back tears and the urge to vomit when I brought both girls in for their very first haircuts and watched the "stylist" at the overpriced kiddy haircutting place lop off three inches of sun-bleached baby curls that I'd been twirling through my fingers since Big E was a nursing infant.
They have to grow up, I know that. I need to accept it, if only to avoid spoiling any more perfectly good vacation time. Still, next week when school starts up again that lunchbag is going to get me. And the hair. I may be mourning the hair until next summer.