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Who I Am This Summer

Posted by Mary Webb on May 31, 2015 at 11:35 PM

"I was never me," says Laura Dern, Reese Witherspoon's mother in Wild upon learning she has terminal cancer. She hadn't had a chance to be herself she lamented because she was always someone's wife or mom. 

I didn't exactly know why I needed this summer to myself; I just knew I did. Actually, even that knowing took some time. When the kids first mentioned it, I had agreed simply because I saw it for what it was: their attempt, especially Quentin's, to say living in my household was some sort of hell they could personally do without. They had somewhere more fun, less dictatorial and chore- and assignment-driven they preferred. It smacked of derision, and I was supposed to feel every inch of the disdain with which it was presented to me. In light of that kind of contempt, all I could do was throw my hands up in surrender.

It was also their father's thinly veiled continued bid to put his "family" back together. This episode would be something along the lines of "You're doing too much. The kids would like you better if you weren't so stressed, if you had some help." The irony isn't lost on me.

Either that, or my (he assumed) over-my-dead-body protest would earn him a few more popularity points with his children. It would sound something like, "Well, your mama is the one that said no." If this isn't running the score up on me, I don't know what is.

Somewhere along the way, their going became less about them seeing how shit really is for themselves, i.e. missing what summer really is for us -- movies, library activities, snoballs, science labs, water balloons, board game marathons, stay-cay outings, etc. I was even determined to sleep under the stars in the back yard this year. Instead, it became more about my own sanity and the difference between actually treading water and fighting to stay afloat. Drowning was too close at hand to ignore.

So,the closer their date got to leaving, the more I antcipated it. I relished the opportunity to just catch my breath, come up for air, or whatever trite cliche works for you here...for an entire summer. That's probably why I prepared myself for the inevitable jolt he would feel when reality set in. I could see the backpedaling coming a mile away. Instead of submitting to it in defeat, I steeled myself to do battle. This time I was grabbing Negroes by the collar and pulling them back to toe the line.

"Not the whole summer."

"Yes, the whole summer."

"I never agreed to that. The kids came up with this."

"And, you never disagreed to it, either. The origin of the plan is neither here nor there. They think they're going, so they're going. What's more is they're staying."

I was prepared to do the simple math for him -- six weeks, eight at best, as opposed to the gazillion I'd served. By no means was I agreeing to turn my beloved children over to their father in May and never set eyes on them again until August. Quentin's numerous appointments nor my love for and attachment to them would ever permit it. But many days strung together of just me, myself and I, I desperately needed. Long weekends sprinkled throughout the summer would work perfectly visitation-wise.

Tuesday afternoon, when they pulled out of my driveway, I grieved. You'd have to be a hard person not to when your babies leave you for an extended amount of time. But, I felt something else, too: relief. Pure and simple release. Like, it might not have happened, and I would have had to keep limping along, but now I was sure I had time to heal.

When they were gone, I jumped in my car to go and collect books and movies on hold for me at the library. Nerd move, yes. But, winning, I thought. I got home with enough minutes to spare to do a quick kitchen and bathroom clean-up before Jeopardy came on. Definitely winning, I thought. Not so much watching it in real-time and having to sit through the commercials and banal interviews, but the watching it without having to pause it every three clues to answer a question, break up a fight, respond to a dessert request, etc. I enjoyed a nice long soak in the tub, long enough that I was able to finish my Essence magazine from two months ago. The caveat this time was I was able to stay in that steaming hot tub for as long as I wanted because I could keep the bathroom door wide open without a chance in hell someone would see. (These long soaks are generally a figment of my aspirations because I start sweating and am forced to get out.) I'm pretty sure I even read a few chapters. But, it was still winning. Best part of the night was meeting up with a friend at Maple Leaf and having such a good conversation it had to be moved off-location because it lasted well past last call.

Despite a glorious first night off parent duty, by Wednesday, the solitude and quiet of my home (an obvious result of lacking plans as spectular as the night before), I was sure I had made a mistake.

Dern's words Saturday night restored my faith. This summer isn't meant to run myself ragged or to fill every waking moment with something to do, marking stuff off my seasonal bucket list; it's meant to do some things I never get to do, like come in at 4 a.m. or check out the reading series I've been meaning to get to for some time and finally managed to do Thursday night. But, it's also meant to just enjoy my space unencumbered like I did today, lounging on the sofa, finally watching The Book of Negroes and The Wedding Ringer and taking a leisurely nap, even if it did almost turn into bedtime as my brother insisted it would when he called me at 8 pm.

Most importantly, it's meant to give me a chance to be me. Yes, being me meant I was responsible for all the Friday chores. But, it also meant I got to do them Saturday after a great lunch with a former student and lazy nap, albeit while blaring James Brown. It really did feel good. (Pun intended.)

Tomorrow, as well as the majority of the summer days, it will mean me sitting at my computer and writing for no less than five hours a day. You have no idea how long I have wanted to do such a thing, as mundane as it may seem to others. 

At some point, it will mean breakfast alone at a place I read about in Gambit and long-put-off consignment shopping on Magazine and Freret and Metairie Road. 

Hopefully, it will mean packing up a house to move into a home.

Cheryl, Witherspoon's character, explains her randomness as a woman on the trail to the hobo-scouting reporter as that currently being her life. She's a rarity she says because "women can't afford to walk out of their lives. They have kids, husbands and jobs."

This summer has afforded me the opportunity, one I may not have for a long time, to walk out of my life and just be me.

As for the other things it will mean, I'll try to keep you posted, but I will definitely let you know when the summer ends.

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