Annie D. Stutley
Jun 1, 2023
"I wonder how different the rest of the year, heck, the rest of my life would be if I did bottle summer’s secrets."
Like sno-cone stands (or snoballs as we call them down here), hydrangea blossoms, and late sunsets, summer always comes back.
I remember squirming in my desk as a kid on the last day of school, fixated on the second hand of the clock, anticipating the burst of energy that would course through my body the second the bell rang and summer, sweet exhilarating, reliable summer, would announce its arrival. If I could bottle that feeling, I’d cure a number of ailments, from anxiety to depression because, in that instant, possibility awakened me. Twelve unscripted weeks lay ahead. How I’d fill them was entirely unknown, but anything was possible because summer never hesitated for adventure. It was a hope worth living through fractions and diagramming sentences for. The question of what was around the corner ignited me, my ears perpetually perked for the next cool thing. What would my story be that summer? The unknown thrilled me.
My last summer of possibility was after college, before I officially became a grown-up and May would move into June without so much as an “oh, wow. It’s already June?” Then I had kids and eventually I was, again, presented with twelve blank weeks with which I had to fill the gaps between Nick Jr. and rounds of Chutes and Ladders. So the summer before my oldest began kindergarten, I wrote a list of everything my three little rugrats and I could do that wouldn’t park them on the couch and make me feel guilty that the cast of “The Backyardigans” had a better childhood than my kids. I smacked the list on the fridge, and on mornings when I hadn’t a clue how to pass the hours before dinner, I went to that list for inspiration. It didn’t take long before I moved with the same stir of anticipation as when I was ten and conquering summers with wonder. Summer-Annie had returned. I photographed those three months, from mud pies to hose wars, and made a memory book. Summer was back in my life, just like the near 16 nectar snoballs I slurped.
The following summer, the kids wanted in on the list. It was filled with silly things like “hunt for dinosaurs in Audubon Park,” but I was witnessing their embracing of possibility and seeing the spirit of summer through fresh eyes as we checked off each item of the list. As the calendar turned and the exhaustion of the countless end-of-school-year performances, projects, and parties whispered the sweet serenity of summer was coming each year, writing the list became summer’s trumpeter. Year after year, our list was as trimmed with the same sentimentality and tradition as Christmas, if not more because the pressure was off. Summer isn’t intimidating, if you can get past your less-than-satisfactory beach bod. The only control summer has is the freedom that the other seasons slowly suck away: an invitation to take the scenic route in everything. Scenic routes lead to who knows what? So can a good summer, and accepting that is a prerequisite to doing it right.
Today, my kids are older. It’s been eleven years since our first list. Cheer, football, and club swim team have invaded those twelve precious weeks. It’s bittersweet how our summer lists have matured. The dinosaurs were eventually replaced with Pokémon Go, which was eventually usurped by Stranger Things. And now, as my oldest embarks on his last two years of high school, summer is a season of preparation, a bridge to get him to his next level. But the allure is still there – the anticipation that something great is coming and also that something is slipping away: childhood, adventure, the scenic route. His contributions to the list are coming full circle. He longs to hunt for dinosaurs again, and my heart wants to go with him.
But possibility is still possible. Even today. But, possibility is only visible to those who choose to see it. Kids grow up, as do summers, but I wonder how different the rest of the year, heck, the rest of my life would be if I did bottle summer’s secrets.
If only I could keep a bit of Summer-Annie and our lists all year long…
My favorite moment in summer was when I didn't know the weekday or the date. It was like being in a vortex where time didn’t exist. I finished the chapter of a good book, watched movies I’d saved for a later date, and I drove around the block until a favorite song finished. My kids slept when they were tired and woke when they weren’t. Even with our now busier summers, I still hear summer’s saxophone’s slower melody today, and when I do, I try to obey its call. During summer, we eat dinner whenever. I often edit and write until the wee hours of the morning. I drop everything and run to my balcony to watch beautiful sunsets and listen to the drumming of the tree frogs. Summer-Annie savors what she enjoys in life without the pressure of time.
Among the many nuisances of life, pairing socks is near the top of my list. Before the summer sports invasion, Summer-Annie had a strict no-socks rule — except for fuzzy socks, of course. Unless we were on a hike out of the city, flip-flops lead the way. But even today, after the last lunch has been packed or final exam conquered, my whole look suddenly simplifies. Makeup is an afterthought. Messy buns are even messier. I lose the belts and the bold jackets and throw on the same handful of sundresses or shorts. Summer-Annie doesn’t impress. Summer-Annie is who she is and drifts through the hottest months of the year with authoritative carelessness.
Saying, “No, thank you.”
Summer-Annie suddenly has gumption. The draw to hibernate with books, Netflix, game nights, and patio drinks is too strong to inhibit by keeping up appearances. It’s as if the hum of the cicadas drowns out the clamor of obligation. As I fire up the grill instead of my energy to get dressed up and attend some “to-do,” I finally listen to that little voice inside me, spoken from that part of me who could actually live happily on a deserted island, and I pause for my sanity. Summer-Annie considers just a little selfishness to be a downright responsible decision sometimes.
My children are feral in the summer, as am I. This has not changed. Routines restrict us enough the rest of the year. Even though nowadays practices, camps, and meets open the door to the “Invasion of the Summer Snatchers,” it’s nothing compared to what a typical week in October looks like for us, and what we discover in our summer escapades is often more unforgettable than anything we learn the rest of the year.
In summer, there is room to explore. I remember the first time I let one kid walk to the convenience store by himself to buy an ice-cold Coke. He came back a new man, wiser, experienced, and itching to wander off again. My daughter has a twenty-two-hour playlist on her Apple Music account. She peels away at it on bike rides through suburbia. My mom didn’t have the Find-My app to know where the heck I was when I was a kid and she’d boot me out the door with a firm: “Go play!” But I have the app, and I smile as I see three little dots moving about on their off hours – three feral cats taking to the streets with their alley-cat friends. Sometimes they check in. “Hey, Mom, can I use my debit card to get a slice of pizza?” Or, “Mom, I’m sleeping at Vivian’s.” I used to be part of all their adventures, and for the briefest of moments I long to be part of today’s version of their “dinosaur hunt.” Yet, their spreading wings bring me a certain satisfaction. They get it. They get the glory of of sucking the marrow out a season and living it to its fullest. Summer-Annie gives in to wandering and the roads less traveled.
I knew eleven years ago that if I didn’t spark the magic, I'd miss the opportunity to ignite memories. I am the giver of my children’s traditions, and perhaps the best one I have to offer is to embrace the delicacy of childhood and adolescence. One day, they’ll be just another grown-up working in July, and something, maybe a kid in flip-flops riding his bike in a wet bathing suit with a gaggle of friends racing behind, will remind them of that sweet season when possibility ran through every second like the best energy going. At that moment, I hope they understand that possibility is always around the corner, no matter the season. We just need to break from the boundaries we enforce on ourselves to see it never really left us.
As sure as nectar snoballs on a steamy June day, possibility always returns. Are we ready to follow where it takes us?
Annie D. Stutley lives and writes in New Orleans, La. She edits several small publications and contributes to various print and online magazines. Her blog, "That Time You," was ranked in the Top 100 Blogs by FeedSpot. To read more of her work, go to herwebsite, or follow her at@anniedstutley orAnnie D. Stutley-writeron Facebook.