School’s OUT for summer!

This should be me.

See the sun-tanned mama teaching her daughter to swim at the South Pool? This should be me … “What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it is supposed to be.”

The last day of Zoey’s pre-school career came last Thursday.  And I was so bummed.

I couldn’t figure it out.  I wasn’t sad because she’s growing up (I actually much prefer and enjoy parenting little kids to parenting babies), not because we’re now without child care for her (if you have one at home, why not have two?), and not because it was cold as heck on the first day of “summer.”

It was because we don’t have a pool to go to.  When I think of summer time, I think of the Homestead South Pool.  I think of being a kid and spending entire days with my mom and her mom friends and their kids (my friends) and laying on the warm pavement and eating sandies and the moms saying things like, “Chlorine sure does make them hungry!”  Laugh, laugh, laugh!

And I think of all the neighborhood kids counting down to Tuesday night because it was tube night.

I think of my dad going “under” from one end of the pool all the way to the other without a single breath and thinking that was some kind of wonderful.

Years after my own baby pool days, my big pool days with Kerry, and Christy, Amelia, and Jenny transitioned from playing dolphins to making up synchro routines.  I remember the summer we were deemed ready to ride bikes to the pool on our own and spend the day there sans parent.  To me, this day was more significant than turning 21.

A few summers after those, I observed it all as a lifeguard.  I saw moms with young kids sitting around the baby pool making friends and setting dates to do it again.  Their kids splashing side by side and “sharing” squirt toys and buckets.   Everyone went home sun-soaked and smiling,  tired, and smelling of sunshine and chlorine.  By the end of the summer the moms didn’t even need to set dates, they just arrived with thermus jugs full of Margaritas (Patty Bolling), plastic cups and plenty to go around.   Goldfish crackers, grapes, capri-suns, and smiles all became community property.

As a lifeguard, I taught their kids to swim.  I watched their eyes quietly fill with tears as Makayla finally made it all the way from one side to another without putting her feet down.

When I think childhood, I think summer.   Summer nights of street  games with neighbor kids, skateboard trains down the sidewalk, the ice cream man, playing add on with my aunt Libby at the country club pool, trips to the amusement park when our cousins Danny and Brien came to town, it was a special day when the morning was spent at Skate City’s “pixie skate” with my besties;  there were trips to the beach to build sand castles and tempt the Atlantic’s “Shark Alley” with cousins Jodi and Laura; backyard birthday parties at my aunt Nancy’s house …  and when all that wasn’t happening, it was my mom taking us to the south pool and “everyone” being there.  This is summer.

My kids / our arctic life includes NONE of that.    We are without neighbors for street games, paved streets for bikes, no sidewalks, no amusement parks, no roller skating rinks; we aren’t even close to aunts, cousins, or backyard family birthday parties to go with them; a trip to the ocean is out of the question because since we live so far from family every vacation we ever take is to visit our landlocked families  …  ALL of these disparities between my happy childhood and my children’s childhood became glaringly obvious when we greeted summer without an outdoor pool within 600 miles of us.

Where is the happy childhood for my children?  Is Fairbanks going to take the bliss of summer away from us too?  The worst part is this is that summer is supposed to be the best part of this place!   (To me this is like saying root canals are the best because dentures stink).  This is what I was thinking as I drove to the pre-school’s year-end picnic at the town park.  At least now I knew why I was bummed.

At the picnic all the kids, including mine, were laughing, and eating grapes, drinking capri suns.  I watched Lucy shriek with glee as she pulled on a dog’s tail for the 100th time and Zoey with her friend Aliera were dumping out bottles of bubbles with a huge grins on their faces …  I realized a happy childhood does not necessarily have to be MY childhood.  Happiness is not having the best of everything; it is making the best of everything.

So, I’m trying my best to get into gardening, and nature walks, and a whole lot of playground time is in the cards for us.  I’m trying the “bloom where you’re planted” ideology, which seems especially apropro because all we have to work with around here is the earth.   At least I feel better for trying.

Hopefully someday my kids will look back and know that at least I tried.  And hopefully they’ll have a happy summer – and childhood – with or without the south pool, or anything like it, nearby.

But just in case, Grandpa Bern, can you please sign them up for swim lessons at the south pool during our summer stay?  I’ll bring the margaritas.





7 responses to “School’s OUT for summer!

  1. Katie, I was getting ready to tell you that their happiness doesn’t need to come from the same experiences you had, when you said it yourself! Good for you in turning it around. It’s not as easy as you think for moms to take their kids to the pool or beach. It only seems that way when you’re the kid! You know that I’m close to the beach anytime you want to come and play in the sand.

  2. mama clarke

    Love the closing paragraph!
    Homestead South Pool = Summer happiness!!
    Music to my ears!

  3. road2clova

    Hey, I loved this blog (rant as you call it). You shared your feelings, worked through them and by the end, was in a very positive place. “Happiness is not having the best of everything; it is making the best of everything”. Loved this quote, did you find it somewhere else or is it a Katie Clarke original?

  4. Love being a part of my favorite blog. Don’t feel too bad for your beautiful girls. First they have an amazing mother who really puts a lot of effort into their happiness. If you need proof of this please look back at your own blog (your source of sanity) and see all the different wonderful and creative fun they have had in the frozen tundra (seeing ice sculptures, watching the northern lights (can you imagine them one day saying I am so sad my kids do not get to see the northern lights dance around the sky every night. I loved the sense of wonder and amazement this brought to my childhood. Certainly trumps your pool.. , living in a log cabin, indoor swings, trampoline, art projects, flights, road trips, ) and the summer is just starting, it is amazing up there and you will not be living there forever, so take advantage of some of the most beautiful unspoiled land on earth!!!! Second, who gets to say they grew up in Hawaii and Alaska? Third, your husband is awesome and a great father so after doing a little math that means your kids have two wonderful parents and this above everything else is the most important part of any childhood. Keep up the great work on the blog, it is always something I really look forward to reading..

    Looking forward to the summer adventure..


  5. This post made me cry more than most … being 6 months pregnant certainly prompts that but I relate to this a lot.

    We live in Denver (for now) so we’re nearby childhood but we choose a very different life by living in a downtown high-rise vs the suburbs with ready access to neighborhood kids, a backyard and a park that is a stone’s throw away. I often get frustrated (and blame my husband, a typical response for my frustration) that my children are not growing up with a big, grass/tree filled backyard and a cul-de-sac to play in because they “deserve that”.

    You know what though? They get a damn lot that I didn’t get growing up. And you know what else? Even if I lived in that exact house, I couldn’t mimic my childhood for them; life is just too different today in ways that we can control. So, I focus on what I can control with what we’ve chosen for our family…we work extra hard to put the bike (and the golf set, t-ball set, soccer ball, and roller skates) in the car to drive to a park where they can spend time outside. And, we give the kids wonderful experiences that I never had but that help them bloom with curiosity and knowledge on a daily basis (family memberships to literally every museum and cultural attraction in the city).

    While I miss the smell of fresh-cut grass, and a garage and other things that seemed basic to my childhood, I know we’re making the best choice for us. And so are you. So, enjoy access to nature and a lifestyle that is completely different than what you had growing up; they will too and they’ll never know life any other way. Hang in there – xoxo

  6. Oh Katie! You write so well. I love how you eloquently depict summer in the hood. Your girls are making their own memories and be sure that theirs are as special as yours, in large part because their mom is making this so. I will have a margie waiting for you poolside come June. Do you want salt on your rim?


  7. I will never forget our South Pool summers!!! Will you guys be in CO this summer? Maybe we will overlap.