Posted

July 14,2010
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

One of those very rare things happened at my house yesterday: I came home from a lunch time meeting and found that my kids had, together, erected a Bedouin tent in the family room. It was quite a masterpiece, complete with ledges inside for collectibles, a lantern lit by a battery-powered light, and a simulated "desert wind" courtesy of L's oscillating fan. But the biggest, most impressive thing of all about this tent was that they were in it together. Playing--mostly harmoniously--for fifteen full minutes as it turned out, before T. knocked down the center tent pole and was banished, amid tears, from the inside of the tent. I was so grateful for those fifteen minutes, though, because they captured what summer means to me: a chance for my kids to invent and use their imaginations; for idle hours at home turned into a spontaneous adventure, a bed sheet a tent, and the rug transformed from dull function to a sloping, blazing hot, desert floor. ************* I made the mistake of looking at my calendar the other day and I realized that there are only THIRTEEN days left of L.'s summer vacation. Thirteen. T. still has five and a half weeks left. Of course, L. started his vacation a full two weeks before T. did, so things even out in the end. But still, it's hard to think ahead to a return to alarm clocks, morning wake-up battles, lunch box angst, new teachers, and all the weighty muck that goes along with a new school year. We can't even mentally prepare L. for the new school year because all conversations about school are off limits during the summer. I write him little notes in his privacy notebook about school. We drop bits of conversation, like fluttery pieces of paper, around us at dinner, or in the car, or on the way somewhere. But he snaps and rages and refuses to talk about school, shutting all the doors before they can even be opened a crack. The other day I was rummaging through the hall coat closet to find vacuum cleaner bags and uncovered L.'s backpack under a pile of reusable grocery bags, and the tote bag where he stuffed all his binders on the last day of school, when he cleaned out his desk. I remember gladly stuffing them all away into the back of the closet, thinking about all the summer days gloriously stretching ahead--like blank album pages waiting to be filled with photos. It was the best feeling ever on that last day of school to wash out his bento box and bury it a kitchen cabinet, shutting the door on all the heartbreak of school lunch preparation and L.'s eating issues and Operation Bento Box, which kind of sort of failed pretty miserably. And I was happy to forget about division and those multiplication table drills that dominated so much of our life this past fall and spring. I was pondering all of this on my way upstairs to kiss L. goodnight the other day. As I lay in bed with him, watching him work his way through a puzzle on his latest DS game, I looked up and saw a purple post-it note stuck to the side of his bookcase. I squinted closer at it. Don't forget to say hi to Ms. M the note read. "Why did you put this here?" I asked L. Ms. M. was his teacher extraordinaire from last year. He truly loved her, and shed tears when he said good-bye to her this past May. He looked up from his DS game, stylus poised in one hand. "So I won't forget to find Ms. M on the first day of school." That little post-it note speaks volumes, I think. Maybe he is thinking about school, in his own way--its a start, at least. Big little steps, into another year.