Summer Lovin’

It’s quiet at my house. The birds are gently calling. The air is still, no breeze to be found. One child is at her dad’s, gone for a long weekend while the other is hopefully enjoying her first ever sleep away camp. Even the dog is away for an overnight. So tonight, it’s the cats and me, and the silent solitary spaces in between.

The weeks leading up to this have been on overdrive with end of school concerts and homework projects. With fruit salads for homeroom, strep throat, and a couple of rounds of antibiotics. With a brown tail moth rash, and a verrrrrry sick pup relieving himself on not one, not two, but six rugs.

As spring rolled into hot summery days still spent at school, my girls started arguing over anything + everything. From who can jump higher on the trampoline to who gets the more robust piece of pie to — good grief — who’s better at brushing their teeth.

Man oh man. Little bitches need a break. 

Yeah, I said it. My people, they’re sweet and they’re surly, and even the littlest can serve up the sass. But oh, how I love them. 

Enter summer camp season. 

When I dropped my elder daughter at her lakeside camp earlier this week, it was a hasty goodbye. We’d buttoned up all the packing, entertained allllll the conversations. We’d already talked at length about the excitement, and also the nervousness. Of feeling ready yet wanting to stay tucked under the covers, under that cloak of safety of home. 

What am I going to do when I miss you?” she’d asked. 

So we spoke of letter writing and even poetry, of journal entries and other ways to illustrate the ups + downs. We both knew that sleep away camp meant life, offline. No calls, no emails, no texts; it was letter writing from here on out. So as her counselor offered us a quick tour of the tent and the surrounding grounds, I excitedly took pictures, filling the dips in conversation with nervous and animated snippets of nonsense. This was the moment we’d been working toward, the goodbye, and it was here. That time when I left my child — my charge — behind.

In the woods.

For three + a half weeks.

We hugged hard at her tent and she gave me the look, the one that says, Mom. I’m good. You can leave now. And so, that was it. I kissed her on the cheek, squeezed her so tight, and turned to climb the hill, where I got into the car and started the long journey home.

Deep sigh of relief. She’s good.

The ride home was of rolling hills and long vistas and it didn’t take but five minutes before the feelings came barreling around each bend in the road…she’s fine she’s fine she’s fine she’s fine, like a mantra, traveling around like laps in my brain. 

And I knew she was. 

Standing tall at 5’6, my child — no longer a kid yet clearly not a woman (because women don’t care to quibble over who brushes their teeth more skillfully) — she’s walking the slack line of betweenness. Turquoise braces fill out her smile and, at that moment, she’s clearly my baby girl but when she closes her mouth, I take in the porcelain of her skin and those almond eyes, the color of the sunshine soaked sea, and suddenly my girl is grown.

And yet. 

Will she remember to put the insect repellent on her clothes, and not her skin? Will she remember to reapply the sunscreen?

Have I abundantly taught her all of the things?

And so then, there came a squall of tears. It was at that moment that I remembered — like a lightbulb that’d been flickering off and on for some time, and had just now rested comfortably in the On position — that this child is not mine to keep. That she is here to learn, and to educate. To observe, and also to teach. That she is here to love, and to let go.

To love. 

But to let go.

I could barely catch my breath on those country roads, a lake glistening in the faraway distance, the clouds hovering like bundles of fresh cotton overhead. The wilds of Maine and its storybook summertime charm combined with the remembrance that I am only to guide this person — to guide both of my children — hit me sharply like a punch to the gut. 

You know this. We all know this. 

But then the human experiences of growth and age unfold and despite all of the minutiae — all of the day to day sports scheduling + screen time monitoring + lunch making — those bigger pictures of parenting, they are suddenly staring you square in the face.

Just like that. We’re air traffic control.

{Little left, that’s good, that’s good! No, right, go right, go right, goddamnit, I said RIGHTTTTTTT!}

It turns out, letting them go — even a little bit — can be deeply painful. I’ve had to acclimate to the many hellos and goodbyes with my daughters of divorce. To pack them up, and unpack them. Again and again and again. It’s a task that no parent desires: that unwelcome, revolving door. 

I won’t soon forget that time, dropping them off at a baseball game  — years ago, they were so little — their first to attend without both parents, and driving away from them, unable to detect the road through my tears. I recall arriving home, the air quality of my house stifling + heavy with stillness, and feeling as if I’d surely lost my limbs. 

Phantom pain, for my children.

To love (so hard), and let go.

After a long day in the car — to camp and back — my youngest and I sat down and composed a letter to her big sister. I watched her handwriting morph from careful penmanship to larger buoyant strokes, capped with lively exclamation points. The more she wrote, the more excited she became, catching her sister up on all the happenings of home — that had transpired in the 8 hours since hugging her goodbye. There it began, the dissipation of sibling rivalry, each time her pen hit the paper so that — as she finished writing  — she exclaimed in oversize letters, OK, THAT’S IT, I MISS YOU, TELL ME EVERYTHING XOXOXO

That one sentence. 

I mean, sure. I could have rounded it out with “Be brave! Be yourself! And allow yourself to have the time of your life!” 

Because I meant all those things. 


So succinct, I couldn’t have said it better myself.



10 thoughts on “Summer Lovin’

  1. HJ

    Ellen your ability to share your emotions and lead the reader right into the lump in your throat (I felt it) is unbelievable. Thank you. Love ya ole pal.


  2. Lisa Molloy

    Ever so honest and lovely. I feel both your pain and delight , my sweet friend. At the end of this month I will be faced with both J and M heading off to their first sleep away camp. I’m thrilled for them and this rite of passage AND at the same time am sure I’ll be coming apart at the seams. Hope that H is having the time of her life at camp and that you and C are enjoying some special time together. Big hugs to you!! Xo L


  3. Bethany

    Your writing never disappoints. Though I don’t have children, I could FEEL the wonder and the pain of parenting, the balance of holding on and letting go.


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