That Vast Lake of Time Called Summer

THE bridge over the railroad tracks was about a block from St. Ann's school on the way home. But, to us kids, laden with the results of a last-day-of-school desk cleaning, the walk seemed longer. The bridge - and not the stuffy, sweaty-smelling gym where our teacher bid us to spend our vacation ``going over'' what we learned - was where, as we heaved books and all thoughts of school onto the tracks below - vacation started officially.

Pages and papers flapped like gulls' wings in the soupy June heat and, relieved of the teacher's dour admonitions, summer stretched out before us like a vast lake, smooth and shimmering. September was a distant shore, visible only as a vague outline from where we stood, too far away to even think about.

On the way home, my sister and I cast plans onto the clear surface - a picnic in the field sometime, a sleep-over in the backyard sometime, a vacation at the lake sometime.

The ``sometimes'' barely rippled the vast surface.

Now, years later, back on the school calendar along with two children, the prospect of standing on summer's shore again helped keep me rising in the cold, pre-7 a.m. dark to stir oatmeal and prod sleepy children out of bed and into clothes.

My thoughts scouted ahead eagerly as the umpteenth biweekly third-grade book report had not passed the rough draft stage at 9 p.m., and when the coach scheduled an extra swim practice at the same time that the swimmer's sister had her dance lesson.

I longed to look over that shimmering, unbroken expanse as I contemplated calendar entries like ``car pool,'' ``science project due,'' ``practice, 4 p.m.''

As the days lengthened, I began to collect pebbles for when we reached the shore - titles of books to read, plans for picnic in the park sometime, thoughts of backyard barbecues, a visit to grandma's.

But now we're there, and I'm fighting to keep my disappointment to myself.

Where is the vast lake of time? Why does the opposite shore loom so close, already crowded with deadlines, school committee work, and soccer schedules?

In the years that I bypassed summer's shore to trudge along with the other adults, summer seems to have shrunk to a small river, and calendar entries are springing up like stepping stones that will carry us in no time to the other shore. Three weeks of baseball, a week at each grandma's, two weeks at camp.

It's not the vast lake I remember, but barely three months, hardly 12 weeks.

Maybe what's missing is the books to heave onto the tracks (I'd gladly offer my kitchen calendar as a substitute). But even if there were a bridge nearby, the adults spoiled the whole thing sometime around 1966 with dire warnings about derailed trains.

I look around expecting to see my disappointment mirrored in my children's faces. You mean this is what we've been looking forward to, I expect them to ask. But they don't.

Instead, my 7-year-old scatters crayoned, dog-eared workbooks and stickered papers across the kitchen floor and stuffs Barbies into her school bag. When I ask why she isn't saving the bag for second-grade tomes, she looks puzzled.

``But mom, I won't need it way until next year,'' she says indignantly, as if I had asked her to put a perfectly useful item in mothballsfor a generation.

Every five minutes it seems my 9-year-old son throws out another idea for what we can do ``maybe sometime before school starts again.'' To visit all the relatives, amusement parks, local attractions, and friends he has suggested just since yesterday would require a year-long sabbatical.

Exasperated finally, I snap, ``Now you know we can only do so much, what with swim team and camp and the trip to grandma's.''

He looks at me stunned and I am instantly sorry.

``But mom,'' he says, taking his turn to sound exasperated. ``We've got all summer.''

Looking at his hazel eyes, wide and confident as he waits for me to agree, I realize that summer's shore is a kids' place like never-never land, and grown-ups using calendars to map the way won't find it.

``You're right,'' I say. ``We do have all summer. What was I thinking of?''

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