Summer in the 80s. If I close my eyes I can smell the Hawaiian Tropic tanning oil and hear Henley’s “Boys of Summer” playing on a mixed tape by the pool. If I don’t look too closely at my thighs in my swimsuit, I can still picture the boy’s initials painted in neon zinc oxide to be washed away later, a tattoo in reverse. I still have my sunglasses with the plastic frames that changed from purple to orange in the sun. I remember rolling in from the pool at the end of the day, smelling like toasted coconut and strawberry Lip Smackers, my hair stiff and lemony from Sun-In spritzes.
Summer feels different now. Shorter. Kids get out from school later and later with June creeping toward July and back-to-school sales beginning with the first hint of August. The days themselves feel more cluttered. Jaunts to the public pool are quick and filled with ‘tweens and teens huddled under umbrellas texting while little ones splash themselves into exhaustion before nap-time. Trips to the beach require car seats for everyone up to 13. The van is filled with seats on seats. I remember sprawling across back seats with only the semblance of a seatbelt draped around an arm or leg, more for show than for safety. We’d play cards and try not to drip ice cream sandwiches on the cracked leather seats.
I learned to swim by age one, the age at which my parents decided to throw me into the pool and wait for me to bob to the surface. There’s a VHS home video as proof. My youngest are three and wear puddle jumpers if they even look at the water. I’m on the swim lesson waiting list.
Times have changed. Sunscreen, for instance, is not optional. My thousands of freckles from all the years would like a recount. I don’t think you can even buy moisturizer without SPF anymore. We are in an era of protection.
I remember watching “Jaws” for the first time, lying on my stomach in my cousins’ living room and staring at the boxy tv with the rabbit ear antenna. Seven-years-old and I would never be the same, hiding my face in the shag carpet the moment the theme song began. Two notes in and it still gives me the shivers. Today I huddle my children close during the shark scenes in “Finding Nemo.” One day they’ll watch “Jaws” and understand why Mommy won’t go in the ocean.
But for all the things that are different – tin can walkie-talkies replaced with cell phones and iPads lighting up the space around the camp fire – there is so much about summer that is the same. My children will still drag huge trunks (that look like they could travel on the Titanic) to sleep away camp. They will still chase ice cream trucks and eat push pops on the curb and pick strawberries from the garden. They will run barefoot in the twilight to catch fireflies in the mason jars my grandmother used for canning tomatoes. They will raise foam fingers at baseball games and spill cracker jacks down the bleachers. They will eat every meal al fresco and, as July creeps toward August, I’ll make them crack open the summer reading and barrel through. (By the pool and listening to “Boys of Summer,” I’m the mom so I get first choice of playlist even if as they roll their eyes.)
Perhaps that is the biggest change of all. I’m the mom. No longer the child with a sense of timelessness, I’m the one who lathers the sunscreen on tiny shoulder blades and under ruffled swimsuit straps. I’m the one with the bag full of snacks and band aids and bug spray and a stray tennis shoe. I’m the one who kisses the scraped knee after a botched bike trick. I’m the one who rinses off the dirt and sand from their feet before walking barefoot back to the beach house. I’m the one buckling them into those car seats and watching them fall asleep in the rearview mirror, one by one after a day in the sun. I’ve traded my zinc tattoo for a c-section scar, the most permanent mark of affection.
So, even though I miss the world where “apps” meant “appetizers” and Matthew Broderick was the leading male, I would not wish it back. My children have ushered me into the new millennium with all the fanfare they could muster. I’ll let them carry me forward through the summers to come until they have their own visions of “then” and “now” and we begin it all again.