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Liz Neumark Headshot

A Summer of Love

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Summer - 90 precious days we wait for all year long. A time of revelry and adventures, long days, bountiful harvest. And every once in a while, something happens that makes me rethink the pattern of the season. This is such a summer.
There is a distinctly East Coast ritual, where parents, both urban and suburban, send their children off to sleep away camp for 4 - 8 weeks during the summer.

Having been raised in this culture, I admit that as a working mom, the idea of my children being shipped off for weeks on end, during the best season of the year, made no sense at all. My husband and I opted for 4-week sessions, and succeeded most summers with either a family trip or a multi-week escape to the "country" as a counterbalance.

For years this formula worked with variations, as we our children grew older. A variation included trips overseas with educational programs and goals. Everyone was free to discover his or her own preferences, so it was not atypical for there to be conflicting visiting days, or multiple mailing addresses to remember. And in the process of visiting these outposts, we discovered quaint towns, local festivals, unique crafts and markets, great wines or beers and regional specialties. There are independent bookshops I long to return to and farmers markets that have inspired me.

It was a complex system, involving shopping (sheets/blankets/gear/clothing - ugh), endless labeling of garments and possessions (as if anything ever really came back - in fact, one summer Sam's entire wardrobe vanished in the camp laundry), packing and shipping (giant duffels left with the doorman for middle of the night mysterious pick ups by freelance college kids), special reminders of and from home (something that perhaps would remind my child that someone back home loves and misses them), stamps & stationary (for the correspondence that dwindled as the years passed, now replaced by email) and so on.

As recently as last summer, we were juggling schedules and programs for 3 kids. However, I think we had one weekend free and clear and took a local road trip on our own. It was a first in over 2 decades of marriage. For the past 10 summers, this has been the rhythm; the kids were more and less, away - there was less to worry about. Everyone had their own sort of break.

Welcome to the summer of 2010. Nell is home from her freshman year, Katie - newly graduated from HS, planning a gap year overseas - is home as well, and Sam rounds out the pack declaring that he has graduated from summers at camp. They all made plans to join the workforce. Nell is working with the Sylvia Center cooking programs; Sam is at Great Performances, in the warehouse/on the trucks/learning the catering business from the back of the house; and Katie is ensconced in Upper East Side retail.

And so, by day, they are all gainfully employed, but it is after quitting time that things are very different this summer for this parent. Tracking 3 sophisticated, active teenagers in NYC is not for the feint of heart. We are in steady communication utilizing the features on my BlackBerry that don't get used for work. One child BBM's, while the others are accomplished text-ers. Those applications, when starred, always mean incoming child communication.

I have become literate with the electronic/text style verbiage that passes for English. To my query "What are you up to" I get "idk just woke up". Other notable selections from the past 3 weeks include:
"Is it okay if I get my nose pierced? My boss okayed it" (by Boss, she did not mean me).
"Yeeah can I have seaweed salad and brown rice salmon avocado roll?"
"Aight" "Yeah" "Good" "Nothing" "Wen" "Yo" "Nope" "K"
"I have an idea for a graduation present" "Il email you"
"Something happened that held me up" (that was a doozy)
"I really need to go shopping, when are you done with work"
"Mad tired" (wait for it)...... "that means im really tired mad tired"
And then one of my most favorite: "ok so theres a party tonight and theres no parent supervision and its cool if you say no cuz I can make other plans but I figured I would ask you"

The household starts early (that's me heading out by 7) and ends late with the return of last teenager. Protocol requires they come in and say good night, no matter what time. And there are nights when the text message begins with "its late, what time r u getting home?"

This is the most unusual summer in my almost 21 years of parenting. It is holding on and letting go multiple times a day. It entails patience, respect, humor, wisdom, tolerance and fortitude as well as the realization that their independence, though overwhelming to accept at times, is the direct result of how they were raised. At times I recall the early summers where an adventurous evening was a family picnic outdoors in Central Park with everyone going to bed at the ungodly hour of 8:30 or even 9 PM. And like the earliest summers, when they were very young and all home, the house felt filled with love and a certain sense of completion. Behind each bedroom door, a child with infinite potential and the object of limitless love, was asleep. Today, in addition to the challenges they pose, it is a full house, perhaps the last summer of its kind for several years to come.

So as I juggle the workload of the summer season, along with weekly visits to the farm, battles over whether or not we all go to the country for a weekend (what, and leave the baked apple?!) the most important story is about the comings and goings of the emerging adults I live with who very prominently are shaping both my summer and me.