The adults in my life forgot to warn me about the one horrible and inevitable fact of growing up. Eventually, of course, I discovered it on my own: You only get so many (and not nearly enough) last days of school. As spring slides into summer, every schoolchild's face I see unleashes a little envy and a lot of memories.
During the school year, I only had to ask Mom how many days were left until summer vacation. She'd say, "Three months, one week, four days, and...." She'd peer at her watch. "Two-and-a-half hours." (Need I say she was a teacher?) But by the time we flipped our kitchen calendar to May, I was keeping my own countdown.
The last school day was like Christmas plus my birthday, squared completely off the excitement scale. When the final bell rang and the teacher (looking 20 years younger than she had in February) said, "Have a good summer!" she was nearly drowned out by the rising flood of voices. It was a cantata of purest joy. I rode the tide of that shrieking mob like a surfer through the classroom door and down the ramps, where I eventually washed out into the sizzling June sunshine. And into freedom, with a capital "F."
Time stretched eternally before me in the golden minutes, hours, days, and weeks of the future three months. Never mind that in two weeks I'd be whining about being bored. I'd be missing my friends and picking fights with my siblings. This was now, the ultimate festival of anticipation and possibilities.
I floated homeward, entranced with visions of afternoons packed elbow to elbow in the chlorinated aqua water of the city pool. Of aimless daydreaming by the canal near our house. I could see myself sliding barefoot through the cool, green-black slime in the gutter. Tunneling on my belly through fields of chest-high golden weeds with my fellow-explorer neighbors. Screaming through the sprinkler, the grass slick, sharp, and green-smelling beneath my feet, and then sitting on the porch to eat grape Kool-Aid ice cubes out of musty-smelling paper napkins.
I'd spend my days helping Mom make cream puffs and licking out the bowl. Stretching out on the braided living-room rug to imagine the whole house upside down. Picking cherries and getting to eat as many as I wanted, crunchy and sugary-juicy. No alarm clocks. Countless games of Clue, Parcheesi, Monopoly, and War with my siblings. I'd finish the book in my fist while my other hand dipped into the library box for the next one.
There'd be picnics of hot spicy sandwiches at the river, the sand velvety-gritty under my feet. My daily bowl of Alpha-Bits would be transformed by the alchemy of breakfast on the patio into an exotic delicacy like peacock eggs and honeysuckle nectar, only better.
Yes, the adults forgot to warn me that each joyous day-before-summer-vacation was one leap closer to my last one. But maybe it's for the best. If I'd known the truth, I very well might have refused to grow up.
BUT I've decided something. This year I'm going to declare an official "Last Day of School" for myself. Or maybe I should call it "Summer Vacation in One Day." Whatever. I'm planning to eat my oatmeal outside, or maybe I'll make cream puffs for breakfast.
I'll stretch out on my living-room carpet and contemplate how life would be if our house were upside down. (How would it work, with two stories?) I'll read all day (possibly comic books) or run through the sprinkler while purple Kool-Aid freezes into delectable cubes in the freezer. And there is no reason why we can't take hot spicy sandwiches (Mom's recipe) to the river in the evening. No matter what I actually end up doing, I'll savor every moment of anticipation. I already am.
Maybe being a grownup isn't such a bad deal after all.