summer's end

Summer is ending as fast as it started. We were only gone a week, but still there is a noticeable difference in the hours of daylight here. It's not so bright by 6:00 in the morning, and by a few minutes after 8:00 in the evening, darkness sets in pretty quickly. It doesn't matter how long I live up here in the "frozen north", as my family and extended family often refer to Madison, I will probably never get used to this. I certainly enjoy the weather - pleasantly warm days, cool nights and early mornings - but even now in mid-August, there is something about the daylight hours shortening and diminishing that has me braced for fall a little too soon.

This week I have to register Daniel at his school, and this time it is For Real School That Meets All Day, not just Preschool. He'll be spending most of his time away from home instead of most of his time with us at home. We are essentially ready for this, since too much time together usually results in whining and bickering and bad moods all around. It's still a big transition, though. I have a feeling the biggest adjustment will be for Anya, who has always, always had her big brother around to play with, to tell her what to do, and to help her get into trouble. Anya, for her part, will be in preschool three afternoons per week, where she can find her own identity and make more of her own friends. All this tugs at my heart just a little bit, but I can't imagine it any other way.

"What are you going to do with all your newfound free time?", a friend of mine asked me. She asked this not without irony because we all know that you never have as much free time as you anticipate. She, in fact, is in the exact same situation I am, kid-wise, with her oldest entering kindergarten, and her youngest enrolled in part time preschool, and feeling like for the first time in five or so years there might be time to breathe, or maybe even read a good book. The first answer that comes to my mind when people ask me this question is "Clean my house," but that is a pretty lame answer. Who wants to spend all their spare time cleaning? The second answer that comes to mind is "Maybe try to find some work accompanying," but that gets complicated fast with scheduling in time to practice and commute, and trying to work out how many after-school hours I would need to be available for playing in studio classes and such. It almost doesn't seem worth it.

Well. I can allow myself a little time to figure this out. In the meantime, I need to find both kids some proper school clothes before cooler weather sets in. Also, Anya needs new shoes yesterday because suddenly her little feet have grown bigger and none of her shoes fit anymore.

I remember back-to-school shopping when I was a kid. I loved it. I got to spend several hours at the mall with my mom and I got to pick out a whole pile of new clothes and we'd eat lunch in the food court. I always felt special. (I do not know if my mom remembers it this way; I think there were probably plenty of clothes-shopping trips where my little brother would run off and hide and we'd get tired and whine and it probably wasn't special at all, but that's not how I remember it now!). I remember that I would have a nice little pile of new clothes to wear and I wasn't allowed to wear them before school started, and it was really hard to wait. The first day, or even first week, of school, was pretty exciting.

Forgive me if I'm getting sentimental here. I've spent a lot of time reflecting on my childhood in the last week or two. For one thing, Daniel keeps asking me to tell him stories about when I was a kid. I can never come up with any good ones; maybe I wasn't a very interesting kid. But also, I spent the last week in south central Kansas visiting Stuart's parents and also visiting my extended family who were all in town for my cousin's wedding. One night we threw a party for my brother and his wife to celebrate their wedding, which was in Minnesota in December. Since none of the extended family could attend their actual wedding, we made a bunch of food and met at the family farm where many memories were made. We ate and talked and reminisced and visited a treehouse my cousin John built nearly 25 years ago in a hedge tree at the edge of a pasture. We watched the sheep run across a field. We watched the now-youngest generation of kids run around the yard much as we had done as the sun set.

That farm hasn't changed a whole lot since I was five and running around the yard. There's a new machine shed, I think, an old chicken coop is gone, and something else may have been added or torn down, but the landscape is essentially the same: same house, same rusty swing set, same huge vegetable garden (though I'm afraid the brutal heat and relentless drought scorched the earth and the garden produced very little this year and we won't even talk about the sorghum and soy crops because it's just too painful), same dirt road lined with hedge trees and yes, that old treehouse.

I spent Friday evening at another aunt and uncle's farm. They were hosting the rehearsal dinner for their daughter's wedding (my youngest cousin, who got hitched on Saturday). The groom's extended family were there, all from out of state, many from eastern states like Virginia and West Virginia. They had never been to Kansas before, or any place remotely like it. They were utterly fascinated by the farm, which seemed almost exotic. Much time was spent in the tractor shed admiring the machinery (my aunt and uncle are in possession of a rather large and impressive combine) and taking in the scenic view of fields and sky, the shed, and the windmill. Shortly before the food arrived, a storm rolled in. The Kansas sky is already impressive, but there is something amazing and humbling about watching dark clouds tumble across it. In minutes, the weather turned from warm and clear to blustery and dark and menacing. My aunt D cheerfully assured us that she had cleaned the basement in case we all had to go down to escape a tornado. Then the lights went out and we ate dinner in the dark.

Sometimes I miss Kansas. I didn't grow up there, but I still claim it as home, or one of my homes. It is the place where my ancestors made their home over a century ago. It is the place where many of my extended family (though not all of them) still live. I went to college there, met Stuart there. We even got married there ten years ago. I sometimes think if it weren't for the brutal summers and all the damn Republicans, I could actually live there.


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