Kids have no lists. No calendars. No scraps of paper with scribbled reminders to pay bills, get dental floss. No baby sitters to call. No appointments to keep. No shopping to do, no places to go and things to buy.
“Where’s the coupon for Jiffy Lube?” and “Has anyone seen the laundry receipt?” “Thank you for contacting me, but I’m away on vacation and will not be checking my e-mail. If you need immediate assistance, please contact. . . . ”
All these things are in the future.
Childhood is a paper boat borne along by a lazy breeze on a summer day.
I call my granddaughter, Charlotte, who is 6 and going into first grade in September, and I ask her, “Do you want to come over? We can go to the farm and feed the goats, then go to the penny candy store, then to Claire’s and pick out hair stuff, and then you can sleep over and I’ll make pancakes for breakfast?”
And she doesn’t say, “Let me check my calendar, Mimi. It sounds great, but I may have a conflict.” She shouts to her mother, “Mimi says I can come over now and that I can sleep over!” She hoots and hollers, grabs her shoes, then stands by the door waiting for her mother. It’s that simple.
It isn’t that simple for her mother. She checks the calendar. Charlotte has a party the next day. My daughter writes herself a note: Go to the mall and get present. Then she hunts around for an overnight bag, packs pajamas, party clothes, party shoes, and a toothbrush, then drives Charlotte to my house.
“Want a cup of coffee?” I say when they arrive.
“I can’t, Mom. I have to run up to Shaw’s.”
I can’t. I have to. That’s what all adults say. I can’t. I have an appointment. I have to work, shop, drive, cook, hurry, do.
Being a grownup is a much bigger boat with all kinds of bells and whistles. But a bigger boat requires work, upkeep, a crew.
The next morning while Charlotte and I are eating pancakes oozing with chocolate, my son sends a picture of Megan, his soon-to-be 6-year-old in her fairy princess purple nightgown, sprawled on the living room couch, her long brown hair going in every direction, smiling.
“Summer,” he texts under it.
That one word says it all.
Summer is this when you’re a kid: It’s sprawling on the couch. It’s nowhere to go, nowhere you have to be. It’s freedom and fun and sleepovers and staying up late and watching movies and reading books that aren’t school books and long days at the beach and staying with relatives who live far away and playing games and eating slushes or popsicles almost every day.
While Megan lounges on the couch watching an episode of “Jake and the Neverland Pirates,” her new favorite show, Charlotte teaches me a card game, Garbage. Neither is thinking about a few days from now, when we will all be all together. Neither is worrying about the mechanics of this. Megan isn’t anticipating the long car ride. Charlotte isn’t worried about traffic.
The children play. The adults plan.
Stay little, I told my kids repeatedly. Being a grown-up is overrated.
Now they know.
It’s not that summer can’t be magical when you’re an adult. It often is, but the magic has to be planned and scheduled — on a day off, after the bills are paid, when the chores are done.
“In a minute,” we say when our kids call for us. “Give me a second.” “Let me just finish this.”
I call Charlotte and Megan, and they come running.