I’m refusing to do that thing teachers do – that summer countdown that we have in the back of our minds that chases us throughout July and August. It is June 9th around 6:10pm — that’s all that matters, not how much time has passed already or how much we have left. Just right now.
As I type this, the dog is snoring at my feet, and I hear the dryer tumbling with sleeping bags I just unpacked from the car. I spent some time with the kids at a state park a couple hours away, and now I’m home to loads of dirty laundry, sore legs, and a cooler to clean. But it was worth every bit of trouble.
We arrived just after lunch and unpacked our things and then took off on one of the waterfall hiking trails. I was a little nervous about Norah’s tiny legs handling the rocks and stairs required, but she did so well. It’s funny how something you don’t foresee as a problem brings a meltdown when you least expect it, and every now and then, they can surprise you equally on the other side of things and completely exceed your expectations. Parenting is so unpredictable. I’m learning that more and more as the years roll by. You just jump and hope for the best.
We spent hours in the woods exploring Cloudland Canyon, making our way over wooden bridges and around rocks piled high and lush green everywhere. The breeze from the water plus the shade made it such a welcome break from the Georgia heat. When we made it to the end of the trail, we decided to stay a while. The kids claimed rocks as their own to sit on while we watched and listened to the falls, and they collected moss and snails in little bug jars before letting them go again on the way back.
At one point, Jude said, “Mama, this feels like a movie.” It made me laugh, but I knew exactly what he meant. That way that nature can catch you off guard for a minute with just the perfect slant of sunlight or a breeze at the right moment. It makes you want to pinch yourself in that surreal beauty.
We made our way back to the campsite to roast hot dogs and s’mores and wait on the sun to set. I reserved a yurt, and it was pretty magical for them, I think. Our own little space to hunker down for the night with a few games and toys they brought along. There was a playground in the middle of the campground, and I could see it from where I stood when cleaning up after dinner, so I told them they could go play. There were other kids there from Florida, passing through for a night or two. I could hear them making little introductions and sharing details about their day. Crickets were loud, and the big full moon was rising, and it was such a simple moment of perfection for me. Here we are – the three of us. These two little humans with their own personalities and their own memories forming.
You can’t always predict what will stick on the surface of their own nostalgia years from now, and who knows if this week’s little adventure will stick for them, but I know it will for me. Sometimes what it takes to find the magic is to strip everything else away, and we did that this week in a way that delivered beyond what I expected.
We slept to the sounds of the forest and woke up when the sunlight came through to meet us. It was 60 degrees or so this morning – which feels like a vacation from southern heat, even when it only lasts an hour or two. I’d packed some strawberry muffins I’d made earlier this week, and we ate them bundled up on the porch with a little iced coffee I’d packed for me.
Once we got moving, Jude was begging to explore an attraction or two in nearby Chattanooga, so we spent a little time there before coming home. Sometimes the very best seconds of a summer are the ones you didn’t plan that carefully.
I ran across a post on Instagram the other day that said something like every summer tells a story, and I reflected a minute to let that sink in and realize it was true. Most of us can look back on childhood or adolescence or college years and define time by certain summers and what they held for us.
Two summers ago, I was flailing through this new life alone and hardly coming up for air in all the itchy discomfort. Last summer was spent with my grandmother, and I have so much gratitude it all happened when I was away from work and could be there, but it swallowed up everything in those months, and I will always look at summer of 2016 as a time defined by her. So now here I am — just here, with these two and the life we know. It took me a long time to get here, and it is not a final destination, but it just feels like such a welcome oasis. It doesn’t take much at all to make it magical these days. I’ve made it through a storm that lasted long enough that I don’t ever think I’ll take for granted times of shelter like this.
The full moon rose to meet us last night as we put out the campfire and went in for bed – another serendipitous event I didn’t expect or plan at all. In old Farmer’s Almanacs, the June full moon is called the strawberry moon, a marker for all the sweet ripening fruit that’s there for the picking this time of year. I couldn’t help but see the connection in my own timing as I laid down alongside Norah last night, her little head on my shoulder and our tired bodies resting after a long day. This life, this season, feels good and strong and real and true and like nothing else but its own self. I’ve waited a long time for what is simple and ripe and sweet. It feels so good just to be here.