Summer is not over. Not yet. It’s August 20, and I’m wearing a short-sleeved, black and white, polka-dot shirt. It’s silk, or some facsimile thereof. I have no sweater, no scarf, no cape, no jacket. And my arms are warm. The window of the pub I sit in is open. The fan in the baffled ceiling in the next room turns steadily. The late afternoon light is bright. But, not as bright as it was just a week ago.
This morning, on the drive to work, it was dark, almost too dark for my sunglasses, which I stubbornly wore anyway, at 6:45 a.m. They were needed, even at that hour, just a short time ago.
Summer is winding down, forcing the question, What was this one about? What happened with it? In it? To it? What did I do, see, feel? How was I changed? What will I remember? If anything? Did I use it properly, appropriately, well?
What will be remembered? What comes to mind first is peach pie. Peach pie, crimped at the edges. Peach pie made by hand in Tahoe Meadows, in South Lake Tahoe, in California, in a rustic, raw wood kitchen, in small cabin, a cabin I’d visited since I was a kid.
It was a summer of shortcake. Strawberry shortcakes and peach shortcakes, sweet, flaky biscuits topped with cut fruit macerated in sugar and whipped cream with a little too much vanilla due to my impatience to use a measuring device of any sort.
Too much vanilla in cream is not a good thing.
My daughter turned 18 this summer. In the same week, my father died. He was 83 and had been failing for a long time.
A year ago, if you’d asked me how I’d feel a month or six weeks after my dad had died, I’d have said, shitty, lousy, aggrieved. Pained. Terribly sad.
I did feel this way. The week of active dying was rough indeed. The week after his passing, I walked around feeling like I’d been pummeled.
But, miraculously, since then, I have been… pretty much okay. Not keening and wailing and careening around the house like I did when my dear Colleen died.
I feel accepting, gentled. Quiet.
My dad had dementia for a very long time. I did a lot of grieving over the years. Maybe I grieved in parts. I let go a lot. When I found him slumped in a wheelchair, neglected in a corner, his long, strong arm nearly reaching the floor, I cried aplenty.
When he peered up at me and said, warmly, “You look a lot like my daughter,” I laugh-cried and said, with all-love, “That’s because I am your daughter.”
When he’d rouse himself (and he’d do this often), peer up at me, and say, marveling, his voice thick with emotion and resonating with presence, “You’re beautiful, dear,” I cried. With joy, with love, with sorrow.
I didn’t know all that crying would spare me now, but maybe it is. Maybe it did do that, is doing that.
I love my dad, and I miss him. But his quality of life had been terrible for years. I think I was in serious denial about that.
This summer, then, was the summer my daughter turned 18 and my dad, whom I’ve cared for to the best of my ability for many years, died in the same week. And what did I feel after the initial shock and pain?
A lightening. That’s what.
When I used to meet parents who had kids who were teenagers or young adults, I arrogantly felt sorry for them, thinking how sad they must be, facing the empty nest. How terrible that must be. What did I know? Clearly, nothing.
I have loved parenting more than anything. It has truly been far and away the pinnacle of my life, and I expect it to remain that way.
However, I must say, when my daughter turned 18 and my father died in the same week, I heaved a huge sigh of relief. I felt my life open up and beckon to me. I felt the freedom entailed in those events. I am done caring for my aging father (my mother died when I was in my 20s). I am officially, legally, done parenting.
For better or for worse, I did it. I raised two kids. I’m sure I made umpteen mistakes in the process, but I am proud of my kids, and I believe they have most of the tools they need to go forth and prosper and live happy and healthy lives. I believe they will give back to society and be benevolent and creative forces in the world. What more could I want?
Now, it’s finally about me, and for the first time that idea doesn’t scare me. It excites me.
But back to Summer. Summer of 2019. Summer of shortcakes and peaches and strawberries. Summer of death and burgeoning adulthood. Summer of work, sunflowers, Tahoe Meadows, LA. Summer of Hamilton. I finally caught Hamilton Fever and can’t get enough of the soundtrack. (I do realize I’m about four years behind the curve.)
It’s the summer of Rent — we saw the 20th anniversary showing of Rent at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles the week before I dropped my daughter off at a month-long California State-funded film camp at Cal Arts in Valencia.
It’s the week of re-locating my sexuality as well, after spurning it while mourning the death of my pre-menopausal self. It’s the summer of accepting my new body, my new hormones — or lack thereof. It’s the summer of…discovering estrogen cream. (Who knew?)
As with most summers, it’s been a summer of food and cooking, dinners with friends, my father’s memorable memorial, at which I served oxtail stew in which three bottles of good red wine had been poured.
It’s the summer before my daughter’s senior year. So, you see, I still get to play Mom, and for that I’m grateful. I might think I’m ready for the empty nest, but the truth is, while my daughter is 18, I get to keep her for another year, and I am sure I need that year. I need this year to prepare for the notion that I will have no one to cook for. I may need a year to put some padding on my body, as I’m not entirely certain I’ll be able to cook for only me, because what’s the fun in that?
Summer 2019 is a wrap. Now it’s time to begin thinking about how to make this (school) year one of opening and honesty, rawness and growth, exploration and fearlessness. A year of straightening my spine, trying harder, and committing to things I love. Becoming a dancer, a better cook, a better writer, a better gardener. Getting organized, better with money, more attentive to friends and neighbors.
There is always room for improvement. Fall, 2019, here I come.