We are in the thick of summer, and it’s going much better than last year. Last June, we had moved to a new town and knew no one and nothing. I thought we’d spend the summer finding kids, meeting neighbors, establishing roots, settling in. I thought summer would be a great time to move, to give that extra few months to make it feel like home.

But when pull a picture from my memory file from last summer, I page threw all the recent clean ones from this past Spring, back to Christmas, further to the beginning of the school year, and finally I arrive at one that is caked in dust. There it is. I pull it out, blow on it, and through the puffy cloud that forms like a cowboy beating on his hat after a wind storm, I see our street. I see my kids alternating between wrestling until someone cries and whining and pushing each other’s buttons. A tumbleweed blows across the street. I am cracking my knuckles, reaching toward my holster.

We can fast forward to this summer now. School has made it clear we don’t live in a ghost town—it’s actually quite lively. I take our dog on 3 mile walks and every few minutes pass a house of a friend of one of the kids that they made in school this year. Both of them have friends within blocks of our house, where they go and knock on doors or I text the parents and suddenly hours of fun are ahead. I wisened up and enrolled one kid or the other in a camp in the mornings. The goal was twofold: 1. Give me time to work without kids buzzing around talking to me and making noise. 2. Eliminate endless together time. I alternated weeks where they would be away to give them a few hours to miss each other. So far, it has seemed to do the trick.

Another helpful bit of improvement to the summer is that they are getting older. And so far, every number they go up on that age scale, I like them better. Don’t get me wrong—I love my children. It’s just that, I haven’t always liked them quite so much.Summer4

As they get older, though, they are becoming more and more relatable and real. They are more independent and don’t need us to help them wipe butts or take showers or even make them meals. This summer they are making their own breakfasts and lunches. They are sometimes kind in a way I want to emulate. The other day, Wally saw I had work to do, so after he made his own lunch, he asked what I wanted. Instead of me laughing at the cute, naive, toddler way of looking at the world, they make me laugh more often intentionally, like someone I would choose to spend time with would. Vivvi impersonates the dumb brother in a musical we recently watched to such perfection that, even when I am raging about something stupid she and Wally just did, she curls her lip up and holds a fake guitar and I crack up. I like them.

The camp thing seems to be working. I want to kill them a lot less often than I did last summer. They still fight, but breaks from are healthy for all of us. I shouldn’t be surprised by the fighting. They have fought since Vivvi started crawling. I have a video of Wally at 3 and Vivvi at 1 where they had been fighting for a half hour straight in the back of the car. He hurled insults at her like, “You’ll never be a big boy!” and “I don’t like your dress!” while she reacted dramatically and copied him and folded her arms violently against her chest. In my favorite moment, he yelled “You’re not looking pretty anymore!”

Summer3I also noticed my summer is slightly more magical this year. Both kids were in full day school this year for the first time, which gave me 7.5 uninterrupted hours a day. I have heard of people who have big plans for this time and find it all gets sucked away into a void. Maybe I enjoy quiet more than most, or—a harsher take—maybe I get slightly more annoyed at being surrounded by needs that aren’t my own for 13 hours a day. Either way, I treasured the quiet work hours where I didn’t feel guilty at my computer while they looked over my shoulder. And although I wasn’t able to cram in tons of extra to-dos, I do enjoy a grocery store trip that doesn’t involve making sure my kids don’t die in the parking lot or hearing them wonder out loud how much looooooooonger it’s going to be or having them crash the tiny kids cart into the lady in the store who is annoyed by children in grocery stores (in my defense, that cart in my ankles hurts!). With them in full day school, I got the same volume of things accomplished, but with less guilt, annoyance, and noise. It was glorious.

And now, with summer, I am feeling an unexpected bonus. I spent 6+ years with kids around me who needed entertainment, so during that phase we figured it out. We did excursions to parks, friend’s houses, the library, and even the occasional attraction (the arboretum, the zoo, a museum). It got to where doing those fun things felt like part of my duties. When your kids can be occupied while you sit for endless hours talking to your friends who are also moms who need their kids occupied, a playdate is a normal part of your day. I have the best memories of sitting with 3 other moms each week for 2 hours, just chatting about life while our kids made a mess of someone’s basement in the background. At the time, it felt like a normal part of our daily routine—something we had to do. Now that I have big kids who have activities and can make their own fun with friends down the block, I do not get “to do” hang time regularly. I get my seven hours, and then the occasional activity with one or the other kid. When summer hit this year, I found myself at my sister’s house one afternoon. We were sitting and chatting and doing nothing while the kids played. And it felt glorious, like fun for me. For six years I sat with friends and went to attractions and it felt like a part of my job. Now, this summer, after camp, we are gloriously, gloriously free. We do all of those same entertainment options, and yet now it feels like a break from my to-do list for 3 months. The laundry doesn’t get done as often, and my house isn’t as clean, but we have fun. And I actually enjoy it as part of the break that is an American summer.

Last night, we decided to drum up some last minute fun. Usually, the kids bother us by asking for things they have come to expect lately—movie nights, Holey-Moley golf watching, ice cream for dessert. It has come to a point where they ask for these things regularly, and when we give it to them it feels like an obligation rather than a gift. I hate entitlement, and it’s the worst of what we are trying to work out of them.

SummerBut last night, the day before the 4th, we surprised them as they were brushing their teeth for bedtime. This seems to be the way to hand out gifts that actually are appreciated for the above and beyond that they are. We told them to get out of their PJs and into summer clothes. We had worked out an easy bike route to a nearby town to watch fireworks. We sprayed on bugspray and stocked up on glow sticks and got on bikes to head a town away at dusk. Husband Wally led the back, and I trailed, watching WallyBen chat up Wally in the front as Vivvi petaled and sang her way down block after block, sure she was experiencing freedom at its best—free from bedtime, free from feeling like she needs more than she has, freedom from life as usual. Freedom to be surprised by joy.

We rode, and we plopped ourselves in a great spot. We chased fireflies and waited. It was not all magical—the fireworks were delayed and delayed until half the crowd had left. At 10:15, when our family games were exhausted and we were about to throw in the towel, the first firework hit the sky. We enjoyed a mediocre show, and then we headed home. At 11 at night, we rode and I watched my husband and my two tired kids make their happy way home, a nearly-midnight ride that I’ll remember forever but that will fade into their memories as what we “used to do” on the 4th of July.

Summer2This is our new summer, and I’m ready for it. The reality, the togetherness, and the occasional magic. I’ll take it all.