One of the things I like most about living in Northern Virginia is experiencing the change of seasons. I enjoy looking out for the many small signs that herald the end of one season and the beginning of another. This year, as usual, I was paying attention as spring yielded to summer. And certainly, it feels like summer, with the heat and humidity expected during a DC-area July. Most afternoons, a storm threatens, typically with lots of bluster and thundery build-up. Sometimes a pounding, torrential rain follows, or maybe it’s just a few sprinkles. Considerable drama, either way. That’s summer, with moods that are shifting and short-lived, rather like those of a fiery teenager with no homework and time on her hands.
Summer is here, without a doubt. But for me, something is off. I’d like to blame it on my broken thumb. Maybe my sense of timing is out of whack because of the injury? During those two months with a cast, followed by a splint, most tasks required twice as much time to complete; that’s true. But it can’t explain my occasional tendency to suddenly forget what season we’re in. It’s more like I’m waiting for some special signifying cue that tells me: Now this is Summer.
A part of me, I think, is waiting for my own fiery teenager, or elementary schooler, or Kindergartner, or preschooler, to finish her classes for the year and be here, at home, on summer break. It’s similar to the way I felt in mid-December. How could the “Holiday Season” have been upon us without our girl home for the holidays? And how can it really be summer without her here?
I’m not complaining. I’m grateful that our daughter has found a career that she enjoys; it’s why my husband and I encouraged her to work hard throughout her many years of schooling. And we count ourselves fortunate that she lives nearby in Maryland. Right now, she’s on a work trip, in Tacoma, Washington. She flew there immediately after returning from Scotland and England with friends. She’s making her own choices, living her life, and we celebrate that.
My husband and I have not been especially clingy parents. We made a conscious effort not to shelter our daughter, or to keep her to ourselves. Growing up as an only child, my small family warmly welcomed others, and we tried to do the same. We encouraged D to forge strong friendships, yet to be unafraid to claim her independence at times. She was among the few students to attend her college orientation on her own. H and I were skeptical of the University’s entreaty, earnest and emphatic, for parental attendance at orientation. Seemed too much like a marketing ploy. D said later that she felt a bit awkward when she sat beside someone else’s mother on the shuttle bus from the parking lot, but other than that, our absence didn’t bother her. When we dropped her off at UVA that first August, (and yes, we helped move her in) we left teary-eyed. We didn’t expect to see her for quite a while, and that thought made us sad, but we tried to keep it to ourselves. We visited her on grounds only rarely, and we didn’t push her to come home on weekends. I have friends who headed to Charlottesville for most home football games and the accompanying all-day festivities. Not us. H, especially, was concerned about interfering with D’s engineering studies. When his sister, her husband and their little boys drove down from Rochester to spend an Easter weekend with us, we didn’t tell our daughter. She’d already said she had too much work to do, and wouldn’t be home for Easter. We took her at her word. She was upset with us. And then the pandemic prevented our visiting during most of her final two years at UVA (with the exception of her graduation, which we happily attended).
All this may make us sound like cold, unfeeling parents. We are not. If we were, I wouldn’t be walking around in the July heat, wondering when summer will begin.
I’m not bemoaning the loneliness of an empty nest. But neither am I unmindful of and unmoved by our daughter’s absence. Images of summers past, when she was with us, are never far away in my mind’s eye. I have sudden flashes of leisurely breakfasts with her on the screened porch. I see her jumping into the blow-up wading pool first thing on a summer morning, in her nightgown. I see D and her friends dashing through the sprinkler spray in the front yard. I see her happily cuddling our young dog. Those were summer days that felt like summer. I miss them. But I have them with me, too. And always, I will count them among life’s treasures.