At the start of summer

The lilacs bloomed this week. And though there have been a few moments of sunshine, the days have been mostly rainy and overcast, with afternoon thunderstorms.

The birds start their songs at 3:30, a chorus in response to the lightening sky. And at night, fat June bugs hit the window screens, trying in vain to reach the light. I'd feel sorry for them if they weren't so creepy.

Summer has arrived.

I used to know what summer was all about. Back when my kids were little and our week-day family life was largely lived according to my personal rhythms and interests.

In July we'd pick strawberries and raspberries. Come August we'd pick blueberries every week. We didn't pick for fun, well it was fun for me, raised as I was by berry pickers. Stocking the freezer with the fruit of the oh-so-short northern summer was a point of pride, tradition, and great taste.

Farm day was every Thursday. And what was in those boxes inspired the week's menu.

There were a few, but not many, wickedly hot humid days sprinkled throughout an otherwise beautiful Maine summer. I never minded that humidity much, it was short-lived.

I took the kids swimming once a week to one of the many local lakes. And sometimes, though this was less often, we'd make the hour long drive to the ocean. Usually when family came to visit.

I worked in our yard, creating an urban oasis. I built easy-to-maintain veggie gardens and beautiful perennial beds yielding bouquets all summer long.

Come weekends, there was hiking and monthly camping trips.

We'd live summer well into September before starting our fall school routine. We didn't take a "summer vacation" from school but sprinkled our breaks liberally, and I mean liberally, throughout the whole year. A month for Christmas festivities, a month to shake the February blahs, a month to dive into the heady spring rush of May. In summer, I found it was best to keep a bare minimum school routine going, when time allowed.

We don't live in Maine anymore and my kids are no longer those kiddos I used to write about. Kids are always growing up and out from their parents but it seems to me that our hike last summer accelerated, or at least accentuated, this process.

I have mourned this change. It is part of my mid-life crisis and questioning, to be sure.

They still look like kids, and they are kids, but they are not children. Childhood is over in our home.

With this move to Montreal, the dolls, Barbies and other vestiges of childhood play have left the premises. (The Legos remain.) A couple treasured items were saved in their memory bins and I kept one of their formerly-precious handmade dolls for myself because even though my kids don't need or want that reminder of their childhood, I do.

This latest shedding of childhood was done without fanfare or any participation on my part.

In the morning I asked Brienne to go through her stuff to pack for the move and at the end of the day she was getting rid of more things than she was keeping.

Since leaving Maine four springs ago I haven't established a typical summer routine. In part because summer is so short here. Even shorter than in Maine. You just hold on for the ride and try to cram in as much stuff as you can.

In addition, we've had a lot of moves and transitions in the last four summers with nothing for me to hold on to, as firmly, as I did our summer routines in Maine.

Our first summer back in Canada we lived with my parents in Nova Scotia, enjoying the close proximity to ocean beaches, which we visited often. Our family did a lot of hiking and a couple backpacking trips. I can't recommend Nova Scotia as a hiking destination but the backpacking trips were commendable. Damien and I went out west for a couple weeks that summer. A couple weeks of the northern summer is a significant chunk of time.

We've had two summers living on the peninsula, both of those at the ski hill. That first summer we were settling into the not-quite-finished chalet and took a trip to Nova Scotia. The second summer we took a three week road trip to the States, family and friends came to visit, we enjoyed hanging out at the river, and there was some late summer camping with my parents. It was a whirlwind as I remember.

Last summer we hiked the Appalachian Trail.

We've had a lot of great experiences over the last four summers but none of them speak "summer" to me the way our life in Maine did. On the opposite note when I think "winter" I think of our years here on the peninsula. Snow, skiing, and wood stoves. Quebec is a winter place. Winter gains the upper hand on summer by being about 4 months longer. And we have really made the most of our winters here.

Maine, especially our last five years there, was a season of relative rooted-ness in our family story. These last four years have been a season of adventure. Moving to Montreal is the start of new chapter in which Damien and I hope to find the balance between these two.

I don't know what this summer will bring.

I can't go back to what summer was. My children are not children any more. I don't have a freezer, I won't be stocking up on berries. There will be outdoor pools to swim at (turns out the pool in the backyard of our new apartment was damaged and is being removed from the property) but my kids might have other ideas for how they want to spend their time.

That's really what it's all about these days in our home. That's what this move is about. Our kids are becoming their own people. They may join me in the things I enjoy doing, but then again they may not. And I'm in a season of trying to figure out what it is I enjoy doing!

We've started our "what we want to do this summer" list and there is nothing "lazy summer days" about it. These kids want to do stuff. And I don't blame them.

It's been pretty low key around here since ski season ended. Not low key in terms of work for Damien and I, there's always more than plenty of that to go around. But low-key in terms of corralling the troops to "do stuff together". We're not done doing stuff together, hardly. But Damien and I have made the conscious decision to embark on a new phase of family life in which we invite our kids to join us in our interests and activities. It is no longer "this is what we do as a family, now pack your gear".

We want our kids to grow into their own people. They want to grow into their own people, and they need to figure that out while feeling loved and supported by us as they do so. And that's what we intend to do.

Since coming home from our hike the kids have opted to join us in our together activities. But with more options on the table (again, the whole reason we're moving) Damien and I know we'll do a lot more supporting in the coming years than we will leading.

This will be the first summer of that shift and I just don't know what to expect. I have my own summer list: make a classic strawberry shortcake with Quebec berries, enjoy my morning coffee on the balcony, make sun-tea, start making new friends, go to some summer festivals, ride a bike to the market, often, that kind of thing.

Family life is a dynamic entity because the people who make up families are growing and changing beings. My kids couldn't stay little forever. I didn't want them to and some days, I was desperate for them not to. And now here we are, no more little kids.

My mom thinks that one of the best things about having grown children and grand-children is the way in which we have enriched and influenced her life with our interests. She's often telling my brother and me how much she appreciates the changes we've brought into her life. My mom, one of my dearest friends, is who she is today in part, because of who I am. And it will be the same for me and my kids.

I don't know what summer in Montreal will look like. I have a growing list of things I want to do. And a Pinterest board of inspiration. Summer is short and I want to make the most of it.

I do know that going forward our lives will be defined by a divergence of interests and life paths, there are five unique individuals in this family unit. But this will add more to our family than take away from it.

Post publication: I feel the need to clarify something, in case it isn't already clear. We are not pushing our children out of the nest or into young adulthood. These changes are happening because our children are programmed to grown up. This is what they are wired to do.

Celine is well into the stage of young adulthood, Laurent is just embarked and Brienne is dipping her toes in the water. As parents, we want to walk this journey with our kids, not expecting them to remain children or living a life in which we treat them as children, which basically forces them to push away from us to prove they are not.

By embracing who our big kids are now, and who they are becoming, we are trying to minimize the pushing away they might feel is necessary in order to assert their independence. We'd rather say, "here, we want to give you your independence, along with responsibility that comes with that, in the security and safety net of a family who loves you unconditionally and has got your back". We're in this thing called growing up together. And, because we can, we are willing to move to places that we feel best support that process.

We still enjoy each other's company, tremendously. (I never want the kids to leave home.) But that doesn't mean the kids still want to go hiking with us every weekend, or do other things that have been regular activities of their childhood. We want to keep our close relationship in tact by recognizing our individuality, supporting our kids' growing independence from us, and celebrating the synergies that arise from honoring our differences.

Filed Under

« Blogging through a mid-life crisis
The moving report »
  • Joy

    Joy on June 13, 2015, 1:48 p.m.

    Bless you as you seek to establish your own and your family's new rhythms and adjust to city living - and thank you for inviting your readers along for the process; I always leave your space with a little more inspiration and motivation to be present and active in my own family's story. (And eww to your June bugs - one of the surprise joys of moving west was the lack of those creepy little beasts :) ) 


  • Jocelyn

    Jocelyn on June 13, 2015, 2:16 p.m.

    Renee, I am really touched by your words today.  My kids are a little spread out - 14, 10 & 7, so we're dealing with just the beginning of the "I don't want to be with my family all the time" stage.  It's been challenging and I've been fighting against it.  Your words have given me wonderful food for thought!  Thank you and I pray that your summer be a fulfilling experience of all that life holds!


  • Laura

    Laura on June 13, 2015, 6:38 p.m.

    Renee, you have been on my mind this week. I've been praying for you. With children 11-18, I understand what you are saying. I feel like I am just now learning to parent teens (not that I have that totally figured out!) and now I am trying to learn how to parent a young adult. It's an exciting, scary, happy, worrisome and thrilling ride we are on! Hang on! I'm looking forward to the grandma chapter (down the road, at the right time). I'm also looking forward to following along in your journey. Thank you for continuing to share your story.


  • Nicola

    Nicola on June 13, 2015, 11:32 p.m.

    The growth and change happens so quickly, yet...not. This journey  is so bittersweet. Part of me wants to freeze, rewind, start over. They are changing faster than I feel like I can keep up, somehow. Yet...I want them to grow and change and come into themselves. I want to watch them grow and shape their own lives and their own families. I want to be part of their children's lives (I hope!). It comes back to gratitude for their mental and physical health. I saw an older couple with a disabled adult daughter today. I had a flash thought...what if they never grew up? We all grew older but they never grew up. I am grateful mine are growing up. It is wonderful, yet it hurts a bit too. I love that you are sharing this changing journey of motherhood with us!


  • maria cordner

    maria cordner on June 14, 2015, 3:31 a.m.

    Transitions are so complex...We are going through some major transitions in our family, also. Disabled child becames a lawful adult and we have to petition for guardianship in order to be able to be part of any decisions, medical especially, that afecct his welfare. My sixteen-year old is getting a driving license with all the wants she is not prepared to participate for. Age is slowing me down, etc. I love that you seemed to be inteted in enjoy the present, this Summer and I feel that is what is working for me too. Seize the moment in the present and slowing down as much as I can this rythm of living. Heavens knows my father's death came so sudden, even after an entire year of suffering with cancer. Enjoy your Summer Renee the best you can! You voice my feelings so much eloquency! Thanks!



  • Sarah

    Sarah on June 14, 2015, 12:20 p.m.

    My girls are now 16 and 19. Helen is spending the summer stage managing for the Ohio Light Opera and Liz now has a job. My husband and I are home alone a lot! I cherish our summer memories. I cherish the new opportunities we are all embracing. I love the new worlds my daughters are exploring and am so happy they are happily exploring. I am happy for the new opportunities my husband and I have to re-discover what who we are as a couple. I am shakily figuring out what my role is now. My girls bound forth while I tenderly step forth. Is this my life stage or who I am? Much to ponder. I love your mother's wise words about how much her children and grandchildren have added to her life and interests. So true!  Now I am off to look at your Pinterest board because a trip to Montreal for a day or two is on my summer bucket list! We only live 4 hours away. 


    • renee

      renee on June 14, 2015, 12:42 p.m.

      Oh, I hear you. I still have a very active role to play in finishing the homeschool years, especially with my younger two, Celine is pretty independent. But I too am shakily figuring out who I am at this stage of family life. I hope to find a new rhythm for the end of these child raising years and then no doubt when Brienne is Celine's age, in 4 years, I'll again be questioning "who am I now?" what's my role here? 

      It's so nice to hear the similar mother heartbeat in these comments. 


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