The Last Day of School. First Day of Summer.
George Washington, Elmo, and Tony Soprano
Well we made it. Here it is: the last day of school and coincidentally, the first day of summer.
I’ve found living in New England, summers are important. If we’re lucky, we have 50-60 days of fun, leisure, and time, maybe under the sun. Maybe, but it’s this time spent together as a family.
As a parent though, summers are confounding because you must have some schedule, course of action, activities for your children. The price is daunting but outweighs the cost to your soul and the silent sanctity to work productively.
See since I work at home, summer can really be challenging because you want to work but the kids are loitering about the house. They’re lazily unproductive when not tasked a routine. It’s chicken and egg. We must work to earn, so as to afford the expensive schedules that separate them from the television, computer and couch.
Due to these challenges – juggling work with child care, I’m thankful that today is also the first day of summer. From here to the new school year, the days will wind down one minute less each day until that first day back. Yep, all down hill from here… I wish. But it’s a positive perspective.
Look I understand a minute a day is not fast enough since I’m burning more money than I’m making and sweating more calories than building muscle. I’m aware I’m a domestic bitch serving the kids, house and yard instead of working my business and body.
Out of the frying pan and into the fryer… no, literally. I found the trick this school year. Each and every morning I started making a hot breakfast for these two girls. They were mopey dopes, dragging themselves out of bed twenty minutes late– usually after that ritualistic final “get up NOW” parental threat – miserable, moaning. They proclaimed recurring phantom symptoms of various influenza, tummy and head aches. Every morning the belly aching; that is, until I turned into Johnny Fry cook.
I’ve found my wrists are skillfull instruments of fry cook magic. My spatula is my wizardly wand flipping eggs over easy thrown on toasted sweet honey bread. Whipping egg white battered cinnamon French toast. And much like that gay biker, New Hampshire fry cook character that Vito Spatafore feel for in The Sopranos one season, I make Johnny Cakes – my little one’s favorite, although she always wants chocolate chips in them.
The morning aroma of hash browns, eggs and turkey bacon waffle through the air, drawing these two lethargic porcelain dolls down the staircase. They float to the table like Bugs Bunny levitating on the scent of a steamed carrot. These hot breakfasts provided a catalyst that cured the common morning nausea, faux fever, what have you. They were ready to devour the menu and get out the door to conqueror fifth and second grades, respectively. It got them to the school finish line when it seemed it could extend into summer.
Now it’s all over. My spatula retired for a summer of challenge at the barbeque or surrender to the clam shack during the humid, tiresome days of distracted work and keeping the kids engaged in library, books, beach, and slip and slides.
However I’m not sad that we move on. The morning multi-task routine preparing such a delicatessen of delight while simultaneously packing lunches, grabbing homework and pressing a carafe of coffee for the Missus and me is a lotta flipping work.
I am wistfully mournful though that these girls are getting older, reaching new paradigms of sophistication in an accelerated, technological world in which kids can lose so much, so quickly in so many ways.
Gone are those days that my first born giggled gleefully at Elmo, Oscar, Bert and Ernie every morning, while I did my work. She loved those characters so much we had every Elmo DVD in the world. She watched them on a loop.
But as Violette grew out of that stage, the new paradigm became curious, less wholesome, even dubious. Suddenly, this transition prominently blaredg in High Def – Peek-A-choo and Avitars, “Tweenie” sitcoms of fresh talking anti-children. “Myth Busters” and Turtle Man replaced Sesame Street and PBSkids.
Unwittingly from the kitchen radio, she was introduced to metal and glam rock, like Alice Cooper. I catch her on YouTube watching Cooper videos. She divulged an idea she had. She asked her music teacher this week if on the last day of music class, can we play “School’s Out”? She’s turned her eleven year old friends – why are they all boys? – on it as well as Korn and Smashing Pumpkins.
Alice Cooper, my mother’s scourge. I pinned a life-size, make-up smeared, sweaty Speedo, python wrapped poster of him on my bedroom wall, prominent, in your face as you walked in the door of my bedroom. Henceforth it stopped mom in her tracks. Now my girl and her friends wanted to rock that anthem as we did in the 70s and probably every kid every decade thereafter… until Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.
Oh yeah. You know… “school’s been blown to pieces”. Mr. Music teacher – a cool Gen Y guy who, it seems, owns only one suit, says to my daughter that he thinks it’s probably not a good idea. Translation: he likes it but he likes his job more.
Violette understands and accepts it; that, it’s all right. She commiserates with me over the rejection without really knowing the shock, the carnage of that watershed moment; it’s affect on our entire educational landscape. The scope incalculable, hard to imagine if you haven’t been buzzed into a grade school. Still I’m stunned, never thought of it till now it’s knocked at my door in our hideaway on Buzzards Bay.
The collateral damage of subsequent events, even if random and a far, they hit you in the gut… hard because it takes opportunity away for joy and happiness, a childhood.
My wonderful daughter understands at new levels. She’s processing this societal arch – a harshly real cold shoulder, rude comments in the suburbs; an adolescent anger spawning violence in our city schools and on streets. It’s grown from harmlessly bad behavior to bullying to obliterating young lives with automatic weapons and bombs. It’s almost likewise disturbing how comfortable these children can evaluate the misanthropic actions of peers.
And what of the youngest? The more innocent little brothers and sisters of these Tweenies pushing teen age? The initial collateral damage on the younger ones, like my little girl, Lily was that they lost out on the beauty and simplicity of terrestrial children’s programming. Clifford the Big Red Dog. Curious George. The fun, educational and erstwhile value-building shows.
The Count declaring the number of the day, Bert doing pigeon shtick or Ernie singing a bubble bath full of a reggae rendition of Rubber Ducky. Hell I would even put up with Barney again for Lily just to have the same early educational development that Violette experienced. But it’s a fait accompli trying to retard the process before we talk Harris and Klebold, Alice and Ozzy, Tupac and Tony Soprano.
Nope. At six or seven years old Lily was all ready exposed to big sister’s annoying “Tweenie” and reality shows. Her development accelerated beyond my wishes or want. I share blame. I thrust her into ballet, kung fu and ice hockey, taken her to Europe several times. Confidence building. And she’s physically fit – 95th percentile her entire brief life. She knows way too much but, she has a strong center as well to balance it. So what’s to worry?
The kid all ready tells me about MLK, Junior, segregated schools, Beethoven, butterflies and Presidents – her favorite George Washington. Zero to sixty child development in sleepy old New England town.
The girl brought home “How They croaked” last week. A detailed book how some of her favorite and history’s most famous people died… miserably, painfully, unnecessarily. She’s particularly fond of the agonizing death of George Washington (“I thought he was your favorite President?”) So you see why I do worry?
But school’s out. Summer’s on and every summer my wife carves out a week or two vacation, so that we can keep these kids, kids. We journey to those wholesome family destinations like Storyland, Clark’s Trading Post, and Santa’s Village.
When Violette was still formidable, into Elmo and Big Bird, we found Sesame Place in Pennsylvania. It’s a theme amusement park with a twist… many twists that run the lengths of water slides of all shapes, heights, and size, lazy lagoons, rollercoaster and evening parades.
Last summer, we scrubbed the usual July run to the North Country – a massive south-to-north thunderstorm sealed the idea that we should go south. It was my wife’s brilliant idea really. Let’s “drive through” that monster system for a day instead of it chasing us down to ruin many days of our summer rite.
I loved it. We could give little Lily her day at Sesame Place, even though she didn’t know their background like big sister. This is definitely the year because big sister is on the threshold of being an eye rolling, training bra breaking, everything’s boring of a teenager.
The Park setting is calculated for maximum tri-State access. A historical landscape in the founding of our country. I love driving down there – that big sign on the bridge over the Delaware River, TRENTON MAKES – THE WORLD TAKES. I don’t know if it’s true but I think of Lily’s favorite President and how this would make George Washington proud as he crossed this river in a dingy one frigid night.
Then as we cross into Pennsylvania the Sesame Place experience might have George yearning for that agonizing leech loaded, blood-letting gum infection of a death two centuries ago.
He may have stood stunned by mobs of triple wide, toe crushing strollers, pushed by next to naked, dripping wet parents. Bumper to bumper strollers of screaming, puking, pissing toddlers roasting in the sunshine.
What in the world happen to my people, this Republic. He might ponder further that I bravely led men into a seemingly dead-end death in this valley, escaping only with daring a do on the Hessians across the Delaware.
There was no starving here now and though there may be a certain Italian element involved in questionable enterprise across that river, there’s nary a Hessian in Jersey to fear today. All thanks to George Washington.
But my goodness, the amount of obesity on parade in this Valley Forge area water park is grotesque, sad, devastating. My children recognize it as we queue in lengthy lines – close, often too closely, pressed up against double D back fat and interstate stretch marks tracing the routes from bad tattoos into inappropriate bathing suits and back out down jelly rolled tattooed legs… and that’s just the men. My daughter says, “Dad, did you see that man’s…” yes. Yes I did, Violette. Now let’s try to forget about it”, as we finally reach the summit of the water slide after some time..
A pink flamingo shade of sunburned flesh radiates from under the body hair and black headed scarred shoulders. It screams sloth and excess as we float on inner tubes around the perimeter of the park, tubes bouncing off the bountiful. It’s all too much at times to absorb, so we retreat to an ice chest of brews and an inexpensive picnic lunch outside the gates. Thank god for “ins and outs” at Sesame Place.
We spent the evening and came back the next day because we had bought this two days for one price ticket as a final salute to our little girls passage of age. We had perhaps supressed our memories of these massive masses when we last visited seven years ago or have these numbers grown -insert pun – greater since our last visit?
Perhaps we were distracted. We had littler ones. We were relegated to sit a new baby in a puddle of pool water while big sister took her first solo inner tube rapids ride, as we held our breaths like all new parents.
Perhaps these young parents are likewise distracted by the new lives of their newborns. It’s another survey in societal collateral damage. The new parents who don’t recognize how an accelerated society leads them to live on pizza, burgers and fries, cold cut hoagies and faux chicken nuggets: a child’s menu, as they deal with the balance of work, obligations and family.
In our haste, collectively overwhelmed we commit a slow societal suicide with the lives that Valley Forge and Trenton won. Independence gone so badly awry. Yet, there are people now willing to defend our freedom for poor choses. The new Patriots. They’ll be out soon on the 4th of July to celebrate those ancestors, who sacrificed themselves, so that we have the right to make piss poor decisions, destroy ourselves, futures and family. Pass the kethup and mustard please.
Forgive me fry cook father for they know not what they do or the fate they tempt in this society. These young parents of old America must work into their lives new repetitions on an age old American iteration of courage, sacrifice and smaller dinner plates if we are to survive this century in this valley or any other valley.
Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. George Washington taught it (by example). Elmo teaches it.
The tragedy of sudden cardiac arrest and premature death, leaving behind innocent offspring without memory of a parent should be startlingly. A reality they can not neglect. It should hit home this summer over that slice or the fatty remnants of a toddler’s leavings. No one, even tough guys from Jersey like Tony Soprano can see it until it’s too late. Inescapable. Tragic.
Yeah, school’s out and we’re at the end of another year of growth. There’s still innocence thankfully.
Violette just came home and said, “It still doesn’t feel like summer” while her little sister is near tears that “all my friends are gone now”, as the bus pulls away.
I assure them we that they’ll share my outlook that summer is all good. We will preserver with or without friends. We’ll ritualistically blow up Uncle Mike’s backyard on the 4th of July and grow wiser with a summer full of new experiences. Now no longer will we be subjected to a social dyslexia manifested in the microcosm of amusement parks in the land of plenty.
But what do I know; I got a stove top to clean and dinner to make.