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31 Junes Old
Finding the courage to embrace this summer in the present-tense
I am feelingly achingly nostalgic today. What is it about the start of summer that feels so saturated with memory?
Last night I rubbed cream into my face and looked at my reflection in the mirror and said, Tonight, I am as young as I’ll ever be again. I climbed into bed and felt all the Junes I’ve ever lived, tucked inside me like nesting dolls, holding pain and elation and flowers and mosquitoes and that vibrating sense of life that is unique to summertime alone.
I climbed into bed and I felt our baby boy kicking in my belly and I was present-day me, yes, but I was also thirty other versions of myself, all welling up and pushing for attention and saying, Me! Remember me? I am alive within you, too!
As I closed my eyes, I was five years old, and I was at the beach eating a bowl of dirt with Aunt Becky on an outstretched sheet, our shoes and bags and picnic basket holding down the corners so it wouldn’t blow away.
I was eight years old, and I was practicing flips on Kelsey’s trampoline. We’d put on a circus show later, and we’d pop bags of popcorn for our audience and charge them a quarter for admission.
I was sixteen and I rode around in Ethan’s ‘91 Dodge Dakota and, when we took a hard left, I’d hold onto the passenger side door so it wouldn’t swing open. I’d sit safely in the middle and our friends still make fun of us for that but I don’t care; I couldn’t get close enough to him.
I was eighteen and we were graduating, and all I can remember is lupine. Lupine and the feeling that life would never be the same again, that it was holding its hands out to me and saying, Come and get it. Its yours, all yours, if you want it.
And then, childhood shifted and changed beneath me. Subsequent Junes sharpened in complexity. I see flashes of wedding bouquets, peonies bursting and blushing. I remember practicing being a wife, pouring wine and cooking with an apron around my waist, finishing one side dish at a time until we could finally sit and eat around ten o’ clock. The pine of our first apartment. The end-of-year celebrations with my students. The surprising loss of a loved one, and soaking in the bathtub until the bubbles popped and the water ran cold and I just lay there, unfeeling and not having the sense to get out. Having a newborn and the sun shining hot but everything around me looking dark and me wondering, why? Fried clams. Staying up late with friends on the porch, the patio lights refracting through my ruby red sips and me thinking, This. This is the stuff. The final call that she was gone, and my grief-weary heart sighing against it all. The tentative steps into a new way of life: a path I hadn’t tried before.
And what will this June bring?
Oh, there are so many versions of myself that I would like to be this summer—that’s the nostalgia talking. I long for a reality where I can compress the very best of the them between my hands, shaping perfection (I always believe in magic in June). It’s so easy to want to nest inside ourselves, to try to slide into those former versions that are softened and romanticized by the filter of time.
The thing about nesting dolls is that one nestles inside the next; it would be impossible for the outer doll to turn to the doll inside it and say, Let me fit into you. We must instead look at this outer version of ourselves and admit that we will never fit into those inner parts again: we are constantly moving forward into uncharted territory.
What courage that takes! But also, what a brilliantly exciting notion, if we can expand our brains to look at it that way.
Today, I am so tempted to hide away in five-year-old Dee, chasing seagulls into the surf. I pine for eighteen-year-old me, so filled with possibility that it physically hurt my insides. I slip in and out of thirty-year-old me, missing my mother-in-law so much that time felt oddly dull and distorted. These versions feel safe because I have lived them before; even with the sad ones, at least there will be no surprises.
But something new is underfoot. It is happening all around: a new June forming. A new summer blossoming. Can you perceive it?
I have this idea that if we are courageously present—if we quit trying to fit into the nesting dolls of our former selves—we will be blinded by the dazzling magnificence of what is around us, right now. Some of it might feel too sharp, too real, too broken, yes. But that’s always been the reality. Being human has jagged edges. Let’s learn to hold those edges with care, rather than pretend they don’t exist.
What freedom might be ours for the taking, if we allow this new layer of skin we’re in to experience the hot and the cold and the rain and the flowers and the hope and the heartbreak that lies around us, even in this very moment?
From a practical sense, for me that looks like:
Accepting a shift in expectations for friendships
I can’t tell you how much I’ve been lamenting the change in the dynamics of our friendships since as we’ve all grown older and many have grown their families, responsibilities, etc. I miss easy community. I miss constant community. I long to host dinner parties and to watch champagne bubbling in glasses on the table and to stay up late talking and to be spontaneous and to say as many yeses as we used to. I also miss feeling that our friends are readily available to us. That all used to be our reality, but for this year at least—it simply is not. But rather than slipping into Remember-When-Land, I’m going to look around at the community we do have and ask myself, “What relationships can I nurture here? What loveliness is there to be had in the friendships and connections that are available today?”
Enjoying slow pleasures
Listen. I’m pregnant. I’m not going to be racing around in an old pickup truck that I might fall out of like I did when I was sixteen. I’m probably not going to be attending any gravel pit parties this summer (although I do love a good one), and I won’t be drinking wine late into the night on the porch with friends, either.
Do I miss all of those things? Dearly. But instead of wishing my body wasn’t in such delicate condition, I am going to choose to discover new pleasures to enjoy. Maybe it makes me sound old, but I love filling the bird feeder with seeds and watching out for our male and female goldfinches. I’ve been enjoying making special breakfasts in the morning, and have been relishing my one cup of daily coffee for all its worth with a hearty splash of heavy cream. I’ve loved walking around the yard in my bare feet at dusk, communing with the flowers and vegetables after the kids have gone to bed. In my search for new, slower pleasures, I’m also learning the art of contentedness, and realizing that I can milk enjoyment out of many things in my day that I never cared to notice before.
Embracing my young family
True, we can’t do the same types of things we did before we had kids. With a four- and almost-three-year old, we’ve gotta work around naptime, bedtime, and looooootttsss of opinions and feelings about everything. Sometimes that makes me feel boxed in. Often, it makes me want to just stay at home, where everything feels easier. But this summer, I’m committing to embracing this exact season in our lives and looking for new kinds of fun. Yesterday it was cold and rainy, so we went to the arcade and the kids zoomed on race cars and earned tickets, then they each got to pick out a cheap-o little novelty. It was silly, ridiculous, and a lot of fun. It was nothing I would have chosen to do before kids, but while we were there, I rediscovered how much I love air hockey and how fun it is to eat a boxful of greasy french fries.
Saying yes to beauty
I have been utterly enchanted with our yard this year. Like—obsessed with the blossoming flowers. (See A Billion Little Beauties for confirmation of this fact.) Perhaps this is part of enjoying slow pleasures above, but I have been deriving so much delight from the little beautiful things popping up all around this summer. I’ve been making bouquets and putting them all over the house. I’ve also been putting out the cloth floral napkins, and demanding the family sit together for meals. I’ve been hanging colorful artwork. I’ve been wearing flowy dresses. I’ve been driving out to the beach and walking in the woods and just saying, Wow, wow, wow! Is anyone else seeing this? How magnificent!
Re-learning how to be loved by God
I’m going to a Thursday morning women’s group at our church and for the next eight weeks, our entire focus is prayer. Prayer has, historically, been a challenge for me. But this week, I’ve been practicing. I’ve been praying for specific things and people, and have been setting aside time to do it. I’ve been praying out loud. And something really exciting has been happening: I’ve been feeling God so close and near to me. I can hear him listening, and it has made me feel so, so loved. In light of feeling so beloved, everything around me has felt more possible, more exciting, more magical (much like it feels to being in love). This feeling of being loved by God is better than anything else I could hope for in a summer day—even a dish of dirt on the beach or a backflip on the trampoline.
My dear, dear friends: what do you think that this summer holds for you? Not, what do you think it should look like this year, or what do you wish it would be like again, but, in this exact moment in time—this completely uncharted territory—what is your life holding out to you? What new thing is underfoot? And, more importantly, do you have the courage to receive it—jagged edges and all?
May your summer be brilliant and wild and wonderful and new.
P.s. The idea about the nesting dolls within us? I originally learned about that from an awesome short story that I used to teach fifth-graders to write expository-narrative pieces. It’s called Eleven by Sandra Cisneros, and it’s stupendous.