T.S. Elliot wrote that, "April is the cruelest month," but he obviously never shared a home with restless children in August. As summer begins to unravel like the torn fabric on a cheap beach towel, I look forward to the State Fair and Labor Day as ritualistic events to close the season.
August is such a scrappy month. As inhabitants of a state craving for warmth, we energetically devour the early summer and all she has to offer. In June, the lakes are crowded, gardens tended immaculately and all seats at outdoor cafes are taken. But by the time August comes along, our gluttony is taking its toll. The city is starting to take on a bloated, deserted ("bloated" and "deserted" feel contradictory to me -- I think of bloated as "full;" deserted as "empty," no?) lethargic quality. The paths around the lakes are quiet, gardens are overgrown and slug-infested and the beaches are half-empty as the milfoil and e-coli warnings encroach upon the swimming areas.
For those of us at home with children, August has a certain humorous quality (as in that laugh-until-you-cry kind of way). Most summer programs have wrapped up, and budget cuts this year have forced the library to close during the last week of the month. Our offspring are bored and slightly anxious about returning to school.
As a parent, putting together the perfect summer for your family is a skill I expect to master when the kids are about 18. Since I've had children, I've had summers when I've worked in an office, when I've worked from home and when I have not worked. I'm still hoping to find the perfect formula. All three of these combinations have their special challenges, and all three find me facing August feeling worn out. I've just run out of steam and ideas for entertainment. And that is saying a lot considering that we, in Southwest Minneapolis, live in the Mecca of easy ways to entertain your children. We've biked the lakes and swum almost daily. Between carting around sand toys, bathing suits and half-eaten snacks, my car looks like a traveling kitchen garbage bin. But that is an improvement over my front hall, where all these summer-fun artifacts get dumped. In fact, we've started playing a game: "find the source of the smell." Could it be the dank basement, the glass of unfinished milk placed on a bookshelf, the damp (and now molding) towels or perhaps the tap water in the kitchen sink?
The kids have taken Southwest Community Education and Park Board classes and gone to YMCA's Camp Kiciyapi. We've taken a family vacation. I've loaded up the car with clothes and groceries for countless trips to the cabin. We've had water fights, done sewing projects, gone fishing in the creek, seen dumb kids movies at cheap matinees, walked through the Sculpture Garden, gotten up early to go to the Farmer's Market, ridden the trolley and heard a concert at Lake Harriet. I've supervised science experiments with glitter, mud, glue and sugar; read out loud all 870 pages of Harry Potter, and felt guilty about allowing too much computer time on long days. Hey, I'd run around with a bucket on my head if I thought for one minute that that might entertain the troops for an hour or so.
My clever neighbor exploits her children's boredom in the end of summer by planning nothing so that they will eagerly return to school. I did this one year, but after enduring several weeks of sibling bickering, I decided that if I were to be in any shape to buy school supplies and pack those first few school lunches, I needed a little more structure.
So I look at these last few weeks as the final three miles of a marathon. Hopefully, the adrenaline will kick in to get me through that final sprint to the end.
Jocelyn Hale is a lifelong resident of Minneapolis and currently lives with her family in the Fulton neighborhood.