The last week of summer vacation is one of the hardest weeks to be a parent or a child. You both want to cram it full of devil-may-care- ness, go from swimsuits to pajamas (the only clothing options for my friend Paula’s boys). For us, it’s grilled cheese sandwiches every day—two pieces of cheese on soft sourdough, buttered on both sides, and slow cooked in a lidded skillet; you can’t take those to school in your lunchbox. There’s mini-amped electric guitar playing on the new deck, a last coat of suntan, some mid-day TV, naps, and a final visible temporary tattoo. A big one.
But it’s not just casual Friday all week. Among the swimming and eating and shredding, we have to finish book reports and summer math; return library books; pick up school supplies; try on every piece of school uniform in the closet; scour this part of the planet for the last remaining khaki pants and white shirts made by French Toast, the knock-off uniform company. And when that fails, as it fails for some items every year, I will have to perform the humiliating task of rummaging through other kids’ hand-me-downs at the Uniform Exchange, before the Ice Cream Social at the school on Thursday night. Because I’m not Catholic, I can get there early, while everyone else is at school mass.
Serena has just returned from counting the items in her closet that she can still wear. Short-sleeved shirts: 1. Shorts: 0. Pants: 0. Long-sleeved shirts: 4.
I take inventory, too. My daughter has grown about an inch this summer. She got her first case of poison ivy. She lost four teeth (which makes fifteen baby teeth lost). She started rock school, has her own electric guitar (a suh-weet Fender Showmaster), and can play about ten songs well, including “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “American Idiot," and "Surrender." She learned to do a flip off the diving board. Three large scabs on her nose, from where her face made contact with the bottom of the deep end, remind me that I wasn’t there for her because I was home, working.
Once fifth grade starts next week, I will be waiting all year for that call from school—the one my mother got just after I turned eleven. I thought I came down too hard on the uneven parallel bars and had to show my bloody bloomers to Miss. Brown, the unsympathetic gym teacher, who broke the news to me like a firecracker and sent me to the nurse. My grandmother picked me up from school that day because my mom was at work. We were unprepared, so I spent the hour or so it took my mother to get home in the bathtub, my grandmother sitting on the closed lid of the toilet next to me.
Now that the cinnamon toast has been devoured, a sunny day and a full agenda await. I feel bad for her that it won’t be spent at the pool, storing up practice dives for next year. But Serena pulls through for me. “I know this is gonna sound kind of stupid, but I actually love going to the office supply store.”
And they’re off.