We always knew where her house was because of the huge palm tree in the front yard, which could be seen from blocks and blocks away. Planted when my dad was just a boy, the tree swayed in the ocean breeze and beckoned us inside where a little glass jar of Hershey chocolates fell into our chubby and eager hands. I always picked the Krackle bar, with Mr. Goodbar as a second choice.
The windows stayed open on Lugonia Street, allowing the sound of wind chimes to harmonize with Grandma Jeanne’s easy listening jazz station. She ran hot, she said, and in Newport Beach no one had air conditioning. Sitting at the kitchen table with a cigarette in one hand and a small fan in the other, we’d watch her slowly complete crosswords. She always had a Diet Pepsi or a dripping glass of Jack Daniels nearby.
She was the free-range type of grandparent, with little desire to make our childhood magical and entertaining. I have zero memories of making chocolate chip cookies together or snuggling on her lap while reading stories. Instead, when my siblings and I visited, we mostly amused ourselves by reading yellowed copies of Nancy Drew from the hallway closet or playing old board games in the garage. But there are two things I always looked forward to at her house, besides the chocolate: she made her tuna fish sandwiches with celery, and she helped us make cornstarch goo.
It was a simple trick that required few ingredients and little effort, but produces magical results: Cornstarch. Water. Eager, greedy hands ready to mix and stir.
We’d sit quietly around the kitchen table while she cut up the sandwiches, our hands covered in the goo and our minds hypnotized by the way it changed from solid to liquid, liquid to solid.
At her house, it was always summer. Always.
The windows are open and the neighbor’s wind chimes sway in the ocean breeze. Palm trees line our backyard, and they help waft in the salty air. A glass of sweating green-tea lemonade is at my right; my little girl perches on my full, pregnant lap. She holds a science kit in her hands. While her brother naps upstairs, she’s eager for special alone time with her mommy.
We quietly nibble on sweets before lining up the plastic test tubes and cups. I retrieve baking soda and vinegar from the kit and follow the instructions to make a mini volcano on the kitchen table. After a few minutes I am slightly bored by the activity, ready for her to entertain herself so that I can go back to my own work. I try to be a fun mom—a hands-on mom—but sometimes it all feels exhausting. Her demands for entertainment never stop, and it’s no surprise when she pulls out the packet of unopened cornstarch and begs for another experiment. Suddenly, I am nine years old again at Grandma Jeanne’s table. I know just what to do.
I grab a small pink bowl from the cabinet and scoop, scoop, scoop the cornstarch while she pours the water. I can’t remember how much of each ingredient to add, but I know there isn’t really a precise recipe anyway. Soon the mixture is ready and we dig our hands into the mess with recklessness.
We are giggling as the goo slowly trickles from our fingertips, almost as if on beat with the wind chimes next door. We watch it turn from solid to liquid, liquid to solid. There is nowhere to go and nothing else to do besides dinner prep.
Drip, drip, drip.
At our house, like my grandmother’s, it almost always feels like summer.
My children, still so young, are home more than they are gone. The days can be rhythmically slow and often monotonous— from how they always rise at 6:55 a.m. on the dot to the evening scramble of baths, pajamas, and books 12 hours later. The weather doesn’t really change much throughout the year, and neither do our habits. We are often, quite frankly, on the edge of boredom.
Not long ago, before I had babies and before we moved to a coastal town, summer came just three months of the year. In the early days of my first post-college career I would wake up to sunshine, begrudgingly put on slacks, and then trudge to an over air-conditioned office that felt like a prison separating me from the leisurely days of my youth. I would go, go, go all day long from meeting to networking event to conference to deadlines. There was little room for routines, and never enough time for boredom.
As I live in this eternal summer of stay-at-home motherhood, I think back to the hustle and bustle of my career days. I put on my yoga pants and imagine what it would be like to have a tailored wardrobe and important places to be. I forget the stress of impending deadlines and instead think about all that work that got done (and stayed done) in my former life. No day ever felt like the one before.
But then I dip my fingertips into the drippy cornstarch mess on our kitchen table, stains on my worn jean shorts and dirt on my tan feet. Most days feel similar to the one before, but they won’t always be this way. She will start kindergarten. I will continue to add more freelance work to my schedule. He will do swim lessons and I will eventually become a carpool mom. In a few years they will all go to school, and we’ll have homework and sports practices and general busyness that every seasoned mom tells me is coming. I am more content in this summer season than I often admit. I am actually comfortable in my dirty shorts and sandals.
I will not always have the privilege of holding her on my lap as we read Peter Rabbit for 45 minutes straight. I will not always have slow mornings at home where they pretend to be lions and I hurry to accomplish chores that will be undone by days end.
Seasons are a good thing. The weather always changes, eventually, and I will not always wear my figurative sandals. But for now, at our house, we live in the long eternal summer that is both monotonous and carefree.
I let in the ocean breeze and take a deep breath.
Beautiful, Lesley. Thanks. I see your point: cultivate summer, all year.
I love summer, too; and more, I love my kids home in the summer. I typically spend June struggling to figure out how to accomplish the work, paid or unpaid, I need to accomplish. July, we sail through camps and typically one extended family vacation. August finds us with just two weeks left to play now that the Ohio lake and pool water is finally warm enough for me to want to get into. At the end of summer I’M the one moaning about them having to go back to school, while they happily recite names of the friends they’ll see again. So I’m trying to be ALL HERE, right now, in every summer moment.
Thanks for saying you struggle through June. This month is killing me! I’m trying to take it easy, but I don’t think I’m giving myself enough of a chance to just be.
This is beautifully written, and I can relate. My kids are now school aged, so we experience the busy days from September to June, but this summer Im determined to play all afternoon, enjoy lazy days at the pool, AND NOT FEEL GUILTY ABOUT IT. Its summer, and for me, that does only last 3 months a year. Im determined to enjoy it. Thank you for writing.