Scenes from summer's sunset

"Hurry, Mom - it's 5 o'clock already!"

Strong but mellowing afternoon sun gilds our urban version of "Golden Pond" - the neighborhood swimming pool. My two daughters, annoyed that we didn't get to the pool earlier in the day, shuck off the T-shirts and shorts they're wearing over their bathing suits and race to the water.

So much for quality mother-daughter time, I think as I sit down at a picnic table. Maybe we're all suffering from August-is-the-end-of-summer blues. Our day began with a morning debate with one daughter over a book report due in September ("No, you can't just write, 'If you want to know what happens, read the book yourself' ") and ended - after we'd "wasted" the afternoon shopping for school clothes - with sulky silence from both girls during the ride to the pool.

Watching my daughters jump into the shimmering water, I know that for them, the bad day will disappear by the time their heads resurface. It will take longer for me. I pull out my latest editing assignment, due the next morning.

By arriving so late, we'd gone against the figurative tide; most people were leaving, busy collecting damp towels, scattered sandals, and deflated swimmies.

The pool's relative emptiness does have advantages. As fewer boys their age remain, my daughters approach the diving board more often. The 10-year-old, whose dives have a "hey, it works for me" élan, giggles each time she emerges from the water. Her 12-year-old sister, who has practiced and practiced this summer with the seriousness of a diver staring down an Acapulco cliff, executes one flawless dive after another. I give both girls a discreet "thumbs up." I know better than to call out "Atta girl!" anymore.

One table over, two little girls are watching my daughters. About 6 or 7 years old, they are dressed in nearly identical two-piece suits with neon-bright flowered prints. My girls long ago traded such beach-cutie suits for one-piece "we're here to swim" Speedos. The little girls' unblinking attentiveness reminds me of how carefully my daughters used to observe the big kids at the pool. Wasn't that just last week?

I can hear from behind me what sounds like a group of girls in their early teens talking in a rapid, up-and-down cadence that makes what they're saying undecipherable to adults. Once in a while, a bass or tenor joins in. My older daughter must hear those adolescent voices, too - she abandons the relative spotlight of the diving board for shallower, less conspicuous waters.

A breeze, cooler than expected, riffles the papers I'm working on. A girl shrieks - something about a yellow jacket dive-bombing her soda can. A boy, sitting alone a few tables away, glances up, rolls his eyes, and returns to his Cliff Notes. With a baby on her hip and a toddler holding onto her beach bag, a mother passes by me on her way to the exit. Without turning, she says to the school-age boy who is dragging his feet a few steps behind her, "OK, Ryan, here are your choices: You can either keep up with me, or get left behind. We're running out of time here."

Whether Ryan and I like it or not, I think to myself, his mother is right. Time is definitely moving on. Fall is but a few minutes away; the memory of this summer will fade as surely as last year's swimsuit. Will the girls even let me bring them to the pool next year?

Tomorrow, I promise, I'll wear my suit and swim, too. At a respectful distance from my daughters, of course.

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