Of owning a boat, my father-in-law has said "The two best days are the day you buy it and the day you sell it."
He says it with a bit of a knowing laugh and a reflective sigh that trails off, for there is a lot of work that goes into keeping a boat afloat and upright for a season. Whether you thoroughly research your purchase and get off on the thrill of the haggle, or you let your impulses and your gut lead you to the promise of a summer's worth of fun with the sexy lines of a new hull, the work begins the moment you hitch it to your car.
Guess who's gonna have to haul, fuel, launch, dock, stock, clean, service, winterize and store it? And you'll never hear the end of it if your expectant passengers get stuck sitting on the dock because you forgot the gas.
But wait! You also have to get it registered, and don't forget the trailer needs a plate. Get yourself a license, too, so you can call yourself Captain -- somebody's got to be responsible for steering that thing!
All that preparation's well and good, but it doesn't mean squat until that moment of truth when you attempt to start it. It only takes one crank, if you're lucky ... two cranks ain't too bad ... three cranks?
"Hmmmmm. I put gas in it. The oil level seems OK," the captain mumbles to himself. "The battery's got juice cause it turned over when I put the key in the ignition, but I better be careful not to drain the reserve before checking everything. What else? Think, think. OK, well, turn everything off. Turn off the radio, too. EVERYTHING. Can't smell any gas, so I don't think the engine's flooded, but let's give 'er a minute or two.
"Alright, START, you $#!%!" he commands as if he can will its reanimation like Dr. Frankenstein. And with a couple more pumps of the throttle and one more hopeful turn of the key, she sputters briefly and roars to life. "It's alive! It's ALIIIIIVVVEEE!"
Now ease back on the throttle and the choke if she's got one. (This is essentially the same prayer- and swear-laden procedure I use to start the lawn mower, generator and snow blower any given day of the year. When you need them, you need them right now. If any of them refuse to start, it's a bad day.)
"OK, good. Everyone aboard and we're off!" But don't forget to check for that oar stored under the side rail in case She get's temperamental out there on the water and you have to paddle to shore. It wouldn't be the first time, and it won't be the last. Is anybody having fun yet?!
While there is some hard truth to Dad's joking words, however, there is also nostalgic sentiment in his gentle chuckle and the thoughtful silence that follows. As his thoughts seem to wander, I recall similar childhood days my brother and I had spent out on the lake with my folks. Swimming and fishing, we cruised the shoreline and relaxed in the sun. Waterskiing or tubin', casting off from the dock with the whole family or hanging out with a friend, those are the endless summer days revered in a few classic songs and glimpsed in old family pictures. And so, I think it's fair to say the same sentiment holds true with respect to summer as a stay-at-home parent: "The two best days are the day summer starts, and the day summer ends."
I don't own a boat. I am, however, the Skipper of an SUV, and my summer crew consists of not one, but THREE Gilligans. They are my charges and my Little Buddies for three hot summer months, and they make me nuts. I may be deemed cynical by the "working" parents that love to point out how easy and carefree our "vacation" with the kids must be, but that is naïve. It's their vacation, not mine. Summer fun with this crew does not come without daily threat of mutinies or the urge to throw any given one of my crew overboard once in a while.
It kinda makes me laugh thinking of the myriad of back-to-school sales and celebratory Facebook posts that herald the long awaited first day of school. I imagine my fellow stay-home-mom's high-fiving each other at Starbucks and the 10:00 yoga class. Jubilant parents everywhere snap pictures to capture those last precious moments before the kids climb aboard the school bus with empty backpacks and shiny new sneakers. At least I think that's what we're doing. Maybe we're just taking snapshots to remind ourselves what they look like so we don't forget over our next nine months of "freedom" and their school year of parental neglect. But it is with that same reflective sigh that my thoughts return to this past summer, swimming and fishing with my boys ... and fighting and laughing ... and cooking and cleaning and laundry and mowing ... and happily watching them grow in the summer sun. (Sigh.)