Summer is almost over. If I didn’t know by the calendar, I would know by the feel of the air—the mornings stay cooler a little longer, and there is a heaviness that makes me anxious. In a few days my boy will begin seventh grade and my daughter, fourth.
I think this is more traumatic for me than it is for them. I get melancholy every fall, because I know these days aren’t mine to keep. This year my son has no interest in being near me and my daughter is pushing back against anything that she thinks threatens her autonomy.
The long, slow days of summer, the moments we have together, they’re growing shorter. I have the end of summer blues.
The big red barn that hosts the talent show at summer camp is surprisingly cool, considering the 100 degree heat outside. The walk from the parking lot down the boardwalk smells of horses and chlorine and grass, and a hint of the grill they have just fired up behind the commons area. Talent show begins in twenty minutes. I am the first parent to arrive, so a tall, heavy set young counsellor asks me my opinion on the best place to line up spectator chairs for the parents. I help him, and secure myself a front and centre seat. It’s the middle of the workday, and I am lucky to be able to be here with a few other parents.
A few minutes later, the campers file in by age group and sit crisscrossed on the floor in front of me, several rows up to the stage. The camp director entertains us with a song the campers have all clearly heard before as the DJ, who goes by ‘HipHop’ or ‘Showtime’, sets up his equipment. His real name his Eric, my daughter has told me. He looks like an Eric.
The first kid up is small and brave, and his talent unpretentious. When his name is called he walks to the front of the crowd, drops and executes a shaky headstand. He stands up and then does it again, and leaves the stage to boisterous cheering.
He is followed by other tiny talents, “watch me!” tricks to show to parents and grandmothers, and they are all cheered by the onlookers. I am sure they have been coached about booing—necessary censorship in a room full of tween and teens, but I am buoyed by the swell of support I feel in the room.
A young girl takes the stage in a black fedora and leggings with an oversized white button down. She has clearly rehearsed this moment. She is confident, and her energy nearly lifts her feet from the floor.
I don’t recognize the song. It doesn’t matter, because the crowd does. She puts everything she has into it, and they are with her all the way. She dances and sways, waves to the beat and her score puts her solidly in the lead. A million high-fives as she returns to her seat.
Two duos perform “Watch Me Whip” that garner lots of applause and laughter that make up in comic relief what they lack in scores.
The next contestant is very tall and thin, with angular features and eyes set in dark circles. He doesn’t look at the audience but his smile is huge and contagious. His talent is both thrilling and shocking as he abruptly bends his arms in a way that looks painful, then sits down and pretzels his legs around his back. His finale is to unfold and skitter across the floor on all fours—facing up, table-shaped – at a pace faster than some people can run.
The crowd erupts into an enthusiastic roar, and he leaves the stage to congratulatory back-slaps and handshakes. I worry for him a little, but I don’t have time to give it too much thought because my daughter’s name is called.
When I was nine years old, there was no way I would have been able to stand in front of the entire camp and sing in a talent show. But she’s doing it, my little girl, and as she begins I lean forward and smile. If she looks out here, I want her to see me cheering her on. The sound of guitar strings fill the room as she waits, holding the mic.
You only need the light when it’s burning low
You only miss the sun when it starts to snow
You only know you love her when you let her go…
She is off-key because she can’t hear herself, and the karaoke version Hip Hop chose for her is for a lower range than what she sang for me in the bathtub 1000 times this week. I feel my stomach flip and wait for her to panic. She does not. She just finds her key and forges on. The crowd begins to clap, to help her keep time. It quickly overpowers the music and becomes a hindrance, so she motions them to stop. They do, waving their arms instead and swaying like they are at a concert, and I feel the thrill of relief that shows in her face.
Staring at the bottom of your glass
Hoping one day you’ll make a dream last
But dreams come slow and they go so fast…
My son is across the gym, sitting with his “girlfriend.” I will keep that word in quotes for as long as I can—I will even make them in the air with my hands, if I have to. He is wearing sunglasses and is probably mocking his sister, so I text him.
He has had some hard lessons about girls this summer. They are starting to compete for attention, and everyone is trying on emotions like ill-fitting costumes. He is mature for his age, stoic but kind-hearted and forgiving, like his father. It makes me afraid for him.
My girl forgets the lyrics for a moment and recovers on the next measure. She laughs at her own mistake and goes on. I swell with pride.
You see her when you fall asleep
Never to touch her, never to keep
‘Cause you loved her too much and you dive too deep…
She begins to work the crowd and I barely recognize her, this girl that has worn a snowman hat all summer and still crawls into our bed at midnight. She plays to the audience, swaying and mugging for the crowd—both little girl and performer. She is already starting to resemble the kind of woman she will become. Funny and quirky and hopeful, tall and strong and awkward, like her mother.
In a few days, my boy will begin middle school and the lessons he learns will only get harder, and not just academically. I remember middle school, and I try not to project my fears on to him. He shields his sensitivity with a layer of disdainful sarcasm. I am relieved by that, and ashamed that I am relieved. It will serve as a barrier from hurt, but I know the heart he is protecting.
The world is changing, they are spinning out of my reach. Does it keep them safe to tell them how ugly people can be? When is the right time to share the consequences of foolish choices I made? How do you prepare your child for heartbreak? For love, or joy?
Staring at the ceiling in the dark
Same old empty feeling in your heart
‘Cause love comes slow, and it goes so fast….
Applause jolts me out of my melancholy. Her score is high—not enough to win, but I am so proud of her, and more importantly, she is proud of herself. It is my nature to find significance in times like this—to find the bittersweet in a moment that might be, to a lot of parents, just a silly talent show.
And it is just that: a silly talent show.
But they will never be twelve and nine again, and right now, right at this minute, I am here and they are surrounded by friends who root for them and cheer them on no matter what they look like, what their talent is, or how they express it. It will not always be that way, I know, and those days are coming faster than I want to think about. I know these days aren’t mine to keep. For as long as I can, even if it’s only for a moment, I just want to stay right here.
Only know you’ve been high when you’re feelin’ low
Only hate the road when you’re missin’ home
Only know you love her when you let her go
And you let her go…..