Summer Coming

Our closest neighbors are a colony of wild parrots.  Actually, the city is dotted with several of these colonies — yet one more point to add to the quirky, rebellious urbanity that is San Francisco.  Only here would thousands of tropical birds mate and multiply and stake their claim on a city park.  I can imagine the initial turf war between the parrots and the pigeons, these flamboyantly feathered friends dropping in on their drab, dirty cousins and declaring: This is San Francisco, bitches.  Step aside.  

The parrots hunt — as parrots do, I suppose — at dawn and at dusk: rising like a mad, squawking green cloud over the park and off between the buildings.  They are impossibly, obnoxiously loud, and passers-by inevitably stop walking and glint up at the changing sky, wondering aloud: “Are those…parrots?”

The parrots are the reason we have to sleep with our windows closed in the summer, as dawn comes earlier and so, too, does the cacaphonous hunt.  Building residents are strongly encouraged not to feed the birds, but one of the benefits of sharing a high-rise with the very elderly and the very young means that such suggestions are often flouted, along with the bans on cigarette smoking and loud noise after midnight.  We can always tell when someone has set up a feeder because the parrots come to perch on our decks in the evening, causing the children to run to the windows and shriek.  The very first time it happened LittleMan was barely on the cusp of walking and we took video of him lurching towards the sliding deck door, where so many hand- and nose prints would come to mark the passage of time, to press his face against the glass until the birds flew away.

The city has been gray gray gray for 30 days and counting.  Not once has the temperature registered over 63 degrees, which is a low record even in a climate known for gloomy summers.  I sit at my desk and stare out the window and casually wonder what the parrots think of this (knowing full-well, of course, that they have just adapted to this chilly new world over years of procreation).  On Monday, it will be the first day of June, and the first day of LittleMan’s first summer vacation from elementary school.

LittleMan, that same child who once tumbled, laughing, all over this same wall-to-wall in his diaper and polo shirt on the day he took his first steps, graduated from Kindergarten yesterday.  This milestone is a few years in the making, as LittleMan’s early fall birthday places him at the older end of the age spectrum in his class.  Tall and blonde as a cornstalk in July, serious as hell, and constantly wiggling those long, reaching limbs, he will be seven in a matter of months.  I literally cannot wrap my head around it.

Of course LittleMan was never really a baby in the way that babies usually are.  He came into the world with his eyes wide open and his ears taking in every single syllable he heard, and he grew into a non-napping, vegetable-refusing, clever-talking, world-weary sophisticate by the time he turned two.  To this day, his happy place is a quiet room filled with Legos and racetrack (perhaps with a glass of bubbly water, some peanuts and chocolate chips, and an illustrated Star Wars encyclopedia at hand), where he can lose himself completely in the underground lair, the space-age Hero Factory, the chase and the battle.

It’s interesting to watch the naturally-introverted child at school.   When I have the chance, I like to stand on the fringes, hiding for a few minutes behind dark sunglasses, just observing.  It’s so rare, really, for me to see him in the pack: to notice how the noise and the energy both engage and threaten him.  To watch him decide whether to participate or withdraw, comply or react.  To follow or to lead. His intensely vivid imagination and his ability to communicate make him a natural leader, but he is also less physical than many kids, less comfortable with people in his space.  To see him find his comfort zone, to witness him summoning the courage to jump from a higher place, to marvel at the way he can sprint in a game of tag…even to understand when he simply decides to abandon the group play in search of something else…

It gives me a strange sense of peace, watching him survive in the jungle of childhood, without me.

This is why, as much as I am an involved parent, I stay away from LittleMan at school.  My presence seems to unsettle him.  He sees me and changes: sometimes becoming clingy and shy, sometimes grumpy, or uncontrollably silly.  In a building full of 400 children or more, I become one more thing to react to.  I prefer to operate behind the scenes, to give LittleMan this slice of the world unhindered by my expectations, my rules, my vacillations.

But the end-of-year routine-vacuum turns everything a bit sideways.  I’ve been in school almost every day this week, puncturing, along with my fellow well-meaning moms and dads, the bubble of authority the teachers have spent the past year defending.  Amid the commemorative tie-dye and too many cupcakes we see the detritus of a school year falling around us.  The classrooms are systematically stripped of the student art, the class photos, the posted rules of conduct.  The halls fill with overflowing recycling bins, nubs of pencils, and beaten, discarded library books looking for new homes.  The enrichment classes are over, the computers locked away, the empty pots of paint recycled.  The Play-Doh is dried out and gray.  Old scotch tape clings stubbornly to empty walls scuffed with dirty fingerprints.  There is extra recess.

“The learning is done!” declared LittleMan on Monday.  “It’s all fun stuff now!”
“You’ve learned a lot,” responded my husband.  “In September you couldn’t read, and now you can read whole books to your cousin!  You can count by tens!  You’ve made about twenty new friends!  You’ve earned some play, I’d say.”

And a break.

We’ve all earned a break.  On Monday, I won’t have to hustle two sleepy-eyed bedheads out the door at 7:30am, won’t have to pack three lunches, won’t have to drive back and forth across the city four times.  On Monday, LittleMan can immerse himself deep in his brilliant imagination, surrounded by Legos and books, sharing space with only a quiet mommy puttering in the kitchen down the hall.

On Monday, when I hear the parrots head out for their morning meal at 5am, I can turn over for an extra hour and soak in the absence of pressure on a cool, gray, summer morning in San Francisco.

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