July is quintessentially summer for us here in North Dakota. It’s the month I dream about on those long, cold winter nights when the landscape is stark and the trees are bare and there aren’t enough layers in the world we can put on to make an outside walk bearable.
But now it’s arrived and we’re trying, just like every parent in Western North Dakota, to get the most fun out of the season while still getting the hay cut, fences fixed, lawn mowed, house painted and garden weeded.
As a kid growing up out here on the edge of the badlands, summer fun meant digging in the garden, riding dad’s half-broke horses, 4-H projects, picking wild raspberries and maybe, if we were lucky, a trip or two to the river to catfish or to the pool in town.
To a kid summer seems like an endless stretch of school-less time full of possibilities. To a parent, summer can feel fleeting and a bit urgent—only three months to fit in vacations, camps, chores, family time and somehow find a way to keep them engaged, learning and not completely hooked on video games by the end of it all.
Funny how the definition of time shifts for us when we become adults.
But even among the summer schedule we’ve been building, full of landscaping projects, corral building and grown up things, somehow the heat of summer, the drawn out days and the sweet smell of clover and fresh cut grass always makes me feel a bit like a kid again. Lately it’s been easy to channel that energy through the eyes of my one-and-a-half year-old, who loves nothing more than to drink from the garden hose, dig in the sandbox and pick petals off of wildflowers in the cow pastures.
On hot days when I feel like the work’s done good enough, I take her to the swimming pool in town to watch her climb up the little water slide and fly down about a hundred and fifty times in a row. I didn’t know I could take such delight in watching someone else’s joy until I became a parent. Her squeals and laughter make it easy for me to bend over and help her up a hundred and fifty times in a row, regardless of my aching back and growing baby bump.
Because someone recently told me we only get 18 summers with our children. It was something I didn’t want to hear at the time, but a part of me is glad to have that thought hang with me. Because it reminded me that Edie will only be one-and-a-half and obsessed with the tiny slide in our hometown water park for one summer.
So that means I might only have the chance to bend over and pick her up another 500 times, depending on how many more trips we make to the pool this summer. Next summer her obsession might be doing 150 back flips into the deep end, who knows.
When you put it in numbers maybe it puts it in perspective? I don’t know. I’ve never been a math person.
But here’s the thing. I don’t like the pressure that’s put on parents to make the most out of every moment, to leave the yard work and the laundry and gain perspective already. I think there’s enough pressure on us without making us feel guilty about letting the kids watch Elmo while dad does the dishes and mom runs the weed eater (or vice versa). Because, let’s be honest, if we’re not taking care of business, who is?
But it’s summer in Western North Dakota, and summer up here is magical for so many reasons—for fireworks shows and fireflies, for staying outside until the sun goes down at 10, for corn on the cob and peas fresh from the garden, for slip and slides and campouts in the backyard, for bike rides and horse rides, calamine lotion on mosquito bites and the smell of sunscreen on your baby’s skin and all of the sweet things that the season simply is. On it’s own. Without any effort from us parents tend to want to control things.
And maybe the best way to make the most of it all is to just breathe in the scent of the clover, take a drink from the garden hose, stretch out on your lawn chair while the kids play barefoot in the grass and call it good.