The grass is lush and green, and I walk barefoot across the yard, as I did when I was a child. The birdhouse sways gently in the breeze, the stenciled names of me and my sister fading on the side. The old oak tree by the back gate is massive, larger than life. All of the trees are bigger than they are in my memories, and I stare at them in awe, remembering how I used to climb up the laddered spokes of the pine trees.
Now there is a sparkling pool, edged with large round, green bushes that I know are pure white in the spring when they are in full bloom. My father still mows the lawn twice a week in the summer, and when I ask my mother if I should buy him lawn service for next year, she shakes her head no.
“He likes to do it,” she says. “It keeps him from falling asleep on the couch.” And then she grins.
They are ready for this season of retirement, she and my dad. Technically, Dad still has his accounting business and he goes to the office every day. And why not? I tell my friends. He doesn’t golf, and reading is his favorite pastime, so work is good for him, at almost 72.
It’s difficult to think of my parents at 70 and 72. In my mind, they are still in their 40s and I am still in my 20s, even though that doesn’t match up chronologically. I am in denial.
My mother mentions that they eventually want to move to their Florida condo permanently and my stomach clenches. Move from this house? This is the house I have known since I was three, when my family relocated from northern New Jersey. This is the house where I had slumber parties and introduced my first dates to my parents, and parked my old 1977 Aspen in the driveway.
This is the home where I spend most of my summers. When I was working full time, it was a week a summer, and then ten days. And then two weeks. Three. This past summer, my son and I stayed for a full five weeks. It was bliss, swimming in the pool and driving up to Lake Michigan and climbing up the big sand dune that I have been climbing since I was ten or so. My parents watched my son while I caught up with girlfriends I have had since kindergarten and beyond. My three nieces played with my son and treated him like a little brother. And my sister and I walked every day together, the same two-and-a-half-mile loop around our old neighborhood, talking and braiding our lives together more closely than ever.
The idea of not having this house as my summer respite location is unimaginable to me. But I have to face the facts: at some point, my mother will not want to carry the laundry up from the basement and on up to the second floor to fold it all and put it away. My father will no longer wish to mow the half-acre of beautiful grass. They will find the cold, long winters too long and much too cold. It is their life, and I want them to be comfortable and happy.
And yet, I am selfish in my heart. I never want these summers to end.
So I will enjoy every summer we have to the fullest, cannon-balling into the water of the pool, shuffling my feet through the soft grass, and watching my son ride his bike around the neighborhood where I, too, rode mine. I will run from the threshold of my parents’ bedroom and jump on the bed when my mom is settling down to sleep, the way I do every summer. I will watch my son read to my dad. We will catch fireflies on our hands and let them go. It is not fancy. It is real.
And I will laugh when people say incredulously, “A whole month with your parents?” and know that these are the best summers of my life.
Kristin Shaw writes at TwoCannoli.com, and has been featured at The Washington Post; The Huffington Post; Brain, Child; Scary Mommy; and The Mid, among other sites. She is the co-producer of the Listen To Your Mother Show in Austin, Texas.