By Rachel Macy Stafford
“Rejoice as summer should…chase away sorrows by living.” ― Melissa Marr
The other night I was taking a walk when I came upon a man pushing a lawn mower across his overgrown grass. My pace slowed as I watched tiny blades of grass dance over his yard. I breathed in deeply and smiled.
It is the smell of fresh lawn trimmings and gasoline.
It is the sound of crickets and thunderstorms.
It is the taste of homemade vanilla ice cream.
It is the feeling of hot cement under bare feet.
It is more than a season and more than a memory. It is my favorite, most alive feeling, and it can be awakened with one smell, one taste, or one remembrance from my childhood summers.
Because when I was a kid, summer was an all-senses experience.
I cut the grass blasting tunes on my Walkman, waving to my dad as he supervised me mow the steep hill in back. I sported chlorine-scented hair and Love’s Baby Soft perfume. I wrote notes to my best friend in bubble-letter script and mailed them because that was second best to passing them in class. I babysat and carried a blue-eyed toddler on my hip treating her like the beloved child I someday hoped to have. I beat the fuzzy yellow tennis ball against the garage door in rhythmic succession. There was always one long car trip with my family—sweaty legs that stuck to the seat and ice cold soda from the cooler in back.
Now here I stand on an uneven sidewalk admiring a stranger’s lawn mower lines wondering what my children’s summer associations will be.
I fear for the extinction of nighttime hide-and-go-seek and tadpole catching in a shallow creek. It doesn’t take scientific data to tell me that an All-Senses Summer is greatly threatened by electronic screens, over-scheduling, endless duties and distractions—both on my children’s part and mine.
As the man tending his lawn gave me a friendly wave, I forced a smile wondering how I could save the season of watermelon-stained smiles from permanent extinction.
A few days later, I had a scare on the Internet. Although the issue resolved quickly and safely for me, it might have been different for my child in a room by herself despite Internet filtering software and parental controls. My husband and I had gotten lax about allowing our children to use screens in all areas of the house—but no more. We reiterated the dangers of the Internet and designated a high-traffic area of our house to keep their devices. That is where the electronics would stay and where they would always be used.
Let’s just say, we instantly saw more of the children.
Let’s just say, time spent on the devices was shorter.
Let’s just say, I became more aware of my own device usage.
Let’s just say, there was heightened interest in engaging with each other.
Let’s just say, something wonderful happened.
The first ever sister jam session happened. Sewing doll pillows happened. Princess Camp planning for little girls in our neighborhood happened. Laundry folding while conversing about puberty happened (not my favorite, but highly important). Desktop organization and bathroom counter clearing happened. Mother’s Helper flier creation and distribution happened. A lemonade stand happened. Seed planting and car washing happened.
Why this surge of creative, hands on, all-senses engagement?
Maybe it was because sitting on the hardwood floor to use the device just wasn’t as appealing as the former comfy chair.
Maybe it was because I understood the importance and the necessity of saying yes to messy activities and out-of-the-box ideas.
Maybe it was because having devices in the family room reduced device time and increased conversation, connection, and awareness for everyone in the family.
Or maybe it was because I saw my children clearly and realized our summer seasons together are dwindling.
With my almost 12-year-old older daughter, I can feel them physically slipping through my fingers.
It hit me on the night of a gathering I hosted for the women I’d met through the LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER production. My daughter spent the previous day helping me prepare food and clean the patio so I encouraged her to go to the movies with her sister and dad. I was secretly hoping she’d go because I thought having her underfoot might be a distraction. But because my child was quite adamant that she wanted to help serve, I invited her to stay.
My daughter began making lemon water in a drink dispenser she bought at Target. It didn’t really go with the décor, but I kept quiet. She tied an apron around her waist and began slicing lemons for the water.
“Mmmmm … I love the smell of lemons,” she said looking so grown, my almost middle schooler.
My daughter did a wonderful job serving beverages to my friends and seemed to enjoy listening to the interesting conversations going on around her. When I addressed the group about being one another’s “missing pieces”, I noticed my daughter didn’t look away when I got choked up. She smiled encouragingly at me from the back of the room as I regained my composure.
When the last guest left the party, my daughter motioned to the container. “Look, Mama! My lemon water was the most popular drink!”
“I am so glad you were here with me,” I said smiling. “Thank you for choosing to be here.”
“Thank you for inviting me,” she said.
As my daughter collected the shriveled lemons stuck to the bottom of the container, the most wonderful thought came to mind: Her hands will smell of lemons. And perhaps someday that scent will awaken this memory in her soul.
As my daughter stood in the middle of my life and I stood in the middle of her growing memory bank, I knew I’d just received the answer to what had been troubling me. The key to cultivating an All-Senses Summer is much simpler than I previously thought. The key is this:
We must invite each other to the common areas of our lives. We must not stay closed up, separated, and disconnected. We must say yes to our loved ones’ contribution, even if it’s messy, even if it doesn’t match, even if they might see us cry.
They will only look like this for a season.
They will only live under our roof for a spell.
But what they do here and now will live on much longer.
In one smell … one taste … one touch … they can relive a moment when someone invited them into the sacred spaces of life.
And that one invitation alone could make for a meaningful and memorable summer.
Rachel Macy Stafford is a certified special education teacher with a Master’s Degree in education and ten years of experience working with parents and children. In December 2010, this life-long writer felt compelled to share her journey to let go of distraction and grasp what really matters by creating the blog “Hands Free Mama.” Using her skills as a writer, teacher, and encourager, Rachel provides readers with simple, non-intimidating, and motivating methods to let go of distraction and connect with their loved ones. Rachel’s work has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Global News, USA Today, TIME.com, MSN.com, The Huffington Post, and Reader’s Digest. Her blog currently averages one million visitors a month. Rachel’s new book, HANDS FREE MAMA, is a New York Times Bestseller.