Sunday, July 25, 2010

I Once Was a Mermaid...

The summers of my youth were seasons of imagination and belonging.  I remember playing mermaid in my Aunt Joyce's pool -- the submerged lights would color the water a sea green as we constructed elaborate tales of mermaid life.  We'd swim until the sky had turned Egyptian blue and our fingers were wrinkled as raisins.  I remember sleepovers when we would giggle into our pillows and whisper too loud, too late.  All through June and July we would sprint through front-yard sprinklers, play hide-and-go seek in the dark, catch gutter snakes at Grandma's house.  We'd find sanctuary in the station wagon during fireworks on the 4th, and on rare but wonderful occasions, hail down the ice cream truck to buy Bomb Pops and Big Sticks for a quarter.

The "we" of my summer memories is not only my two brothers and me, but also my cousins. Summer was when we could spend the most time together, free from the school schedule, free to be completely ourselves.  

Now, as I watch my sons play with their cousins, the sweetness of summers past comes back to me.  How quickly it seems we left our games behind.  How easily we let the August nights, bathed in starlight and thick with the day's heat, lose their magic.  The rest of the year, cousins were usually relegated to weekends and birthday parties, but in the summer, any day held the possibility of the ideal in playmate -- part friend, part sibling --  the connection of family, but the novelty of an outsider .  I know we had moments of irritation, times when we would bicker or be ugly to each other, but we always knew that in the end, we were loved.  Summertime with my cousins was like salve on a small wound I didn't know I had.  Even remembering it now heals parts of me I didn't know were hurting.

I do not keep in touch with my cousins as well as I should.  None of them even live in the same state as me, which makes staying close even more difficult. However, my oldest son will be taking a trip with my mom to visit with this part of my family (and celebrate my grandpa's 80th birthday!) later this week.  I wish I could be there to share in the moment, but it feels good to know I am sending my son to spend time with people who already love him.  I am learning more and more each day that this is what a family must do if it wants to stay together -- already love each other.  Before my boys arrive for an afternoon of swimming with their cousins, they already love each other.  Even though experience has told us that at some point in the day, they will yell  or cry because of what one of them says to the other, they begin their time together already loving.  And by the time the day ends, they are already loving again.  They are not afraid of the fights; they yearn for the togetherness.

I don't often wish to return to childhood, but if I did get to go back, today I think I would pick the longest day of summer and I would spend it as a mermaid, a hider, a seeker, a popsicle-eater, a snake catcher, and a moonbather -- and I'd want all my cousins there with me.

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