A few years ago, I got wind about this thing called The August Break. It was a blogging thing, a thing where you took a break from blogging for the month of August. Or, at least, a break from the writing part. You were still supposed to post a picture every day and let that picture hold space for your words. I spent the month doing just that, exhausted still from our move north and trying to figure out what blogging meant for me anyway. And I was trying to figure out what living back in New York meant for me. It was a fun summer, as I remember, but stressful. We went from living a thousand miles away, on our own without anyone asking for our time or giving their input on our lives, to living fifteen minutes to our closest relatives.
An August break was a welcome one. As I remember it, I quit blogging about a month later. It didn’t carry the same weight as it had when we lived so far away. One of my motivations for starting the blog was to share with our far-flung family. Now we were back, so what did it all mean? I realized what truly excited me was photography, and I continued to pick up the camera day in and day out. I taught myself how to use Lightroom to edit my photos, then decided it was too much work and I’d just shoot film. Film stood on its own and didn’t require any more hours at the computer. That made me happy.
A few mornings ago, I sat in the living room reading, then got up to get a cup of coffee. The living room is on the wrong side of the house to see the sun coming up. If I want to read, I have to use the lamp, even though I can see out the bay window that the sun is kissing the world hello. I went to the kitchen to pour my first coffee of the day and was met with a beam of bright sunlight shooting across the kitchen table, which was clean except for a small vase of flowers. The flowers glowed, lit from the back by an oozy orange sun, and I paused, took a deep breath. It was a moment, one I would have missed had I stayed on the couch reading. I poured my coffee, finished it off with some milk, then looked up and the light was gone. It had disappeared into the trees and the kitchen was dark again. I returned to my book, hot coffee in hand.
Later, I stood at the kitchen sink in the dark. All morning, the sun dips in and out. The trees are doing their job of shading us, but I want the light. I want a bright kitchen. I wash the dishes slowly while looking out the window at the backyard, all lush greens. I am grateful there’s a window over the sink, a bit of natural light where I stand again and again doing dishes. It’s a cool day for August and the windows are open. I hear breezes whooshing through the trees over the music playing in the background. It’s been a slow morning. I’m taking it one step at a time.
Today, the kids are at day camp and my husband is at work. The house is quiet. I walk from room to room, toys and books and papers in piles everywhere. They are proof that life is being lived here. We’re alive and we’re making messes. The messes are easier to tolerate when no one’s here, when it’s quiet enough that I can pause, take a moment to check in with myself. I walk into the bathroom and remember I need to wash the towels today. I lift them from the hooks on the back of the door and stop again. I remember no one else is here. I want to hold this moment a little while longer.
Summer is so beautifully intense. On the one hand, I want the full weight of summer to rest itself on me – the heat, the lolling about, the unscheduled days. I want all the idyllic moments. But with them come the proof-of-life stuff. We are home together all day. We bring our conflicts, our bad attitudes, our joys, our creativity, our messes, and our bodies into the mix. Some moments are light; others are dark. We make the most of it, but all the messy day-to-day splashes over onto the calm. We don’t lie around in hammocks taking naps all afternoon. We are like every other family; we have fights and eat snacks and try to find ways to occupy our minds.
So, the kids headed to camp for one last week this summer. I’ve been working more than usual to get ready for our vacation, which starts in nine days. There’s no paid time off at my job. So, I’m trying to work ahead. This is interfering with my daydream of peaceful hammock-napping and lolling about, but when we get into the car and head off on our trip, it will be worth it.
I made a mistake in July. Actually, I made a few. The biggest, though, turned out to be overcommitting. I took on a writing class and an extra writing project. I wanted to announce plans for our re-launch of hello there, friend. I wrote most every day for my 100-day project. It was too much. I flipped the calendar to August and took a deep breath. It was time for a break. I set a few goals for the month: get ready for vacation, keep on top of work, say yes to adventures, take a Sabbath every week.
A friend wrote me a letter asking if writing brings me peace. She had started writing her story, she said, something to share with her daughters when they get older. What is it like to share my story? she wants to know. What does it feel like? I don’t know how to answer, so I’ve avoided writing back. The truth is, writing doesn’t necessarily bring me peace. Or, maybe, more specifically, it’s that it hasn’t brought me closure. Writing brings me more questions. It makes me probe deeper. I learned that more and more as I made a futile attempt at writing a first chapter of a memoir I’m not ready to write. I spent three long days writing about my past, starting and stopping and shedding more tears than I thought I had. Then I quit. I quit even after I found a sweet little story about a summer I spent with my grandparents, a story I didn’t realize I had. I quit because I had to.
A week ago, we went to the lake for the first time. It was the second day of August. It felt like an exhale. I sat with Adam out front, on the side of the house that faces the lake, listening to the water whoosh against the retaining wall, and we watched the sun go down for the first time this year. I had my camera out, trying to capture the fleeting moment when the sun first kisses the horizon. Then, I turned to the water. It’s higher than usual, finicky. But I missed it. I missed the full weight of it, of sitting at the water’s edge watching the day pass, of taking the boat to the abandoned beach andpretending like it’s ours and only ours.
The next day, we went to that beach with a cooler and a waterproof speaker. We played catch in the water with the kids and laughed as they jumped off the boat. Adam made a fire and cooked hot dogs, and we ate cherries and spit the pits back into the lake. It was the first time this summer that I didn’t worry about what I was doing or wasn’t doing. I was in the middle of nowhere and no one could find me except the three other people I most love to get lost with. I just sat there on a rock beach, watching the water and sky.