Saturday, August 18, 2012

Summer Graces

First of all, thank you all so much for the incredibly kind and warm response to my last post.

Second, sorry for reacting to your generosity by going silent for several weeks.

But now where were we?

Ah, right. Summer.

So every summer since the kids were born has gone pretty much the same way. I start it out filled with energy and armed with a long list of all the educational and enriching activities I’m going to do with them. By mid-summer I find myself repeating phrases like “Wow, the summer is really flying by!” and promising myself that I will do those educational activities any day now. By the end of summer, that ambitious list has been completely abandoned and my catch phrases have just given way to long strings of expletives.

Somehow the void of time that was school is instantly filled by some sort of “busyness” the way that wet sand rushes in to erase a footprint on a beach. I can’t quite wrap my head around how our schedules are going to readjust to accommodate school resuming soon, but I know it has something to do with a constantly dirty house and a lot less sleep.

All that whining aside, there have been some moments of summer grace that I’m clinging to. Summer grace #1 was our trip to St. Louis for the albinism conference.

For me, the very best moments of childhood involved waking up when it was still dark and hearing the muffled sound of suitcases being zipped and car doors closed. In that moment my anticipation became so electric the very air seemed to snap and crackle.

Of course now I realize that that moment of excitement was made possible because the adults had already spent hours and hours planning and packing and stressing. For parents, there is less snapping and crackling and more groaning and moaning.

Luckily the kids’ excitement over taking the train to St. Louis was so palpable that even as I stood bleary-eyed on the platform at the crack of dawn, I couldn’t help but bubble with their anticipation. Their enthusiasm about the train ride didn’t wane through the 13 hours of traveling and layovers that day and it continued on the equally long trek home. Any trip on any form of transportation is exhausting with three kids (especially a toddler), but the train was so much better than a car or plane any day. Damn those lucky Europeans with all their fancy pants trains.

But I digress.

The conference of course was wonderful – connecting with old friends, meeting many new friends, attending informative sessions, and in general just soaking in the joy of having so much white hair in one place. There were some rude or stupid comments and plenty of staring when we went out as a group, but for the most part we enjoyed our blissful albinism bubble. 

The boys were much older this time compared to our first conference in D.C., so I was most interested to see how they would handle the kids’ programs. We have talked openly about albinism in the past, but they hadn’t seemed interested in the topic. I chalked it up to the fact that we live in a very diverse city, they have each other, and we are pretty active with our Michigan chapter of NOAH.

That is why I was a surprised that Fionn walked up to another little boy the first day of the conference and said, “Hey, you have white hair just like me!” They never said anything about albinism the rest of the trip, but it was interesting nonetheless.

A month later, they were running around a playhouse in the ophthalmologist’s office when a new boy walked in and started asking them why they have red eyes. Emerson did what Emerson does and ignored him. Fionn stopped and responded in a very matter of fact tone, “No I don’t, I have blue eyes.” Then he smiled and added proudly, “And I have white hair!”

Is there an emoticon for heart swelling? If so, insert it here.

Moment of summer grace #2 was on a camping trip with friends. It’s pathetic to say that we started planning this camping trip back in February as a way to reunite with college friends we hadn’t seen in years. The pathetic part is that despite months and months of planning, half the people still canceled at the last minute and we were down to three couples/families. Despite the setback and despite the intermittent rainstorms throughout the weekend, we had a great time. The kids loved it all too: eating s’mores, sitting by the fire, sleeping in a tent and playing in the canoe (whether or not it was actually in the water).

Even though the highlight of the weekend was spending time with our friends, my moment of grace actually happened thanks to a large group of German Baptists (if you are confused, think Mennonites) that set up camp across from us. They had the foresight to create a dining area under a huge white canopy so that they could stay together even if it rained. We looked on with jealousy as we retreated to our tiny individual tents every couple of hours.

As we were getting ready for bed the second night, a new storm starting brewing and the camp managers came around to say that it would be a big one. We were instructed to take cover in the bathrooms, which was not reassuring. A few minutes later, the wind started thrashing the trees and the lightning and thunder began a booming symphony that went on uninterrupted for hours. We huddled in our tents and told the kids it was fine to go to sleep, but I have to admit a tiny part of me was freaking out.  I love a good storm usually – just not when I have three kids in the middle of it protected only by a piece of cloth and a few flimsy poles.

Finally the worst blew over and I started to breathe again. At that moment, over the still rumbling thunder and drizzle of rain, I heard the sound of people singing. The German Baptists were sitting together under their canopy, completely unruffled by the storm, and now they were singing hymns.

By that time the boys were asleep, so we took Miren out of the tent and walked to the beach across from us to watch lightning strike over the water in the distance. We watched the sky and black water light up every few seconds and we listened to hymns. It was…. surreal.

A few minutes later, the singing stopped and their children came out onto the grass with sparklers. Through the rain and mist, it looked like frenetic fairy dust that swirled and exploded and danced. Apparently my always-good-citizen husband had given them one of our boxes of sparklers earlier that night and the kids were ecstatic. He had also offered them canoe rides that day, which they seemed excited about but never took him up on it.

After our strangely magical night, the Baptists returned Robbie’s generosity by bringing over a batch of homemade donuts that had just fried. They were the most amazing donuts I have ever eaten, although I still can’t figure out how you fry donuts while camping.

So finally to summer grace #3. Even though our camping trip had been on a beach, the crazy weather this summer had caused an algae bloom that prevented us from swimming. Last weekend we finally got a chance to swim on a local lake for the afternoon. It was a tiny bit cold for lake swimming, but we dived in blue-lipped and shivering nonetheless.

The moment of summer grace came watching Miren explore the beach. She is an exhausting handful all the time, but she is also refreshingly curious and fearless. I’m not sure if it was five minutes or an hour, but I just sat there watching her squeeze sand between her toes, walk backward to examine her footprints, squat down in the water and let the tiny waves lap at her back, taste test some washed up plants (did I mention she has really fast hands?), and poke at debris with sticks.

This probably seems like a strangely inane moment to focus on, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot. How sad it is that we stop exploring the world like that when we get older. How sad it is that I can’t be that present in the moment more often.

I hope we get to go back to the beach and slip in another moment before school starts…or maybe we’ll have other equally good summer moments. But in any case I’m holding tight to these for all they’re worth. To do lists be damned.


  1. sorry we cancelled :( (although not so sorry we missed the storm.)

  2. That sounds like the perfect summer. Glad we got to be a part of it this year :).