A mother's hard lesson in the passing of summer

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceJuly 15, 2014 

As a mother, I've always had a love-hate relationship with summer.

I have loved summer because it's the one time of year my over-scheduled, under-slept children can sleep and wake according to their natural body clocks instead of digital alarms. I have loved summer because the most complicated thing we will encounter on a summer night is not a diorama due tomorrow, but a protracted family board game after dinner. I have loved summer because the only sports in my children's repertoire on a given day is a fairly disorganized pickup soccer game at a local park, and this year, watching the World Cup for fun.

I have also hated summer for these reasons.

Ironically, every year as each beloved summer progressed, as I watched the calendar creep toward midsummer and beyond, I found myself hardly able to enjoy the season's remaining days.

Because I knew these days would soon be gone.

And then one September afternoon five years ago, I was told the number of summers, falls, winters, and springs I had been assuming I would enjoy in my lifetime, might very likely be cut short.

It was leukemia. My white blood count was flaring, my doctor told me that day, because I have an incurable cancer of the immune system called chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Typically, though not always, a slow-moving disease, this condition can smolder for 20 years. Or two. It can erupt as painfully enlarged lymph nodes. Or a malfunctioning immune system that commands a game of cat-and-mouse with chemotherapy. There would be no treatment, no help, until the disease attacks, my doctor said that day. The only thing to do for now is to "go home and watch and wait."

Just as you never forget the days you give birth, so do you not forget the day somebody tells you have cancer - information you feel required this day to tell your husband, your sisters, your closest friends and last of all, your three children, one of whom is 12.

You also remember the day you decide not to sit idly by.

It took me a couple of years to decide, in fact, I would not just go home to watch and wait. I launched a counter initiative, starting with macrobiotics, a diet that is as much about the deliberate preparation and chewing of seasonal, whole foods, as it is about the food itself. From there, I began to explore other ways of harmonious living, to rest more instead of compulsively saying yes like we mothers are wont to do. I took long, barefoot walks in rich, green grass for the rejuvenating effects of oxygen and chlorophyll. I did tai chi in my back yard and yoga as the sun rose. I learned to meditate, to experience thoughts and feelings, and life itself, as fleeting, even as the ground held steady beneath my feet.

Along the way, I managed to hold off the disease's progress.

I also learned not only to appreciate summer, but to look forward to winter.

These days, we enjoy our midsummer evening meals as often as we can in the open air, with no need, nor desire, to rush through. There is no soccer game to get to. No homework to nag about. No need, even, to hurry to bed.

We sit on the deck on these longest days of the year, surrounded by the plenty of summer - by herbs and flowers in window boxes and raised garden beds in the yard full of organic kale, collard greens, lettuce and broccoli.

The generosity of the summer rains this year have grown some of the plants so tall, I joke with the kids, I believe I could see them grow if I stood staring long enough.

"Just like you," I tell my youngest, my 17-year-old son, a "late bloomer" who suddenly sprouted six inches in two summers' time, and promises now to bypass his dad.

There is no good reason to hold onto any of this, I have learned the hard way.

Because it will always go away, to be replaced by something else.

Meanwhile, in the quiet, ethereal of a July summer's evening, time does indeed stand still if we let it. We hold it in our gaze, but not too tight, like the now-you-see-them-now-you-don't of a hummingbird's wings. We feel the hush, the laughter, and soon enough, a chill on the breeze of autumn's returning glory.

(Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988 when she was pregnant with the first of her three children. Visit her website at www.debralynnhook.com. Read her blog: debralynn-bloopbloopotter.blogspot.com; email her at dlbhook@yahoo.com , or join her column's Facebook discussion group at Debra-Lynn Hook: Bringing Up Mommy.)

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