The last week of summer vacation is one of the hardest weeks to be a parent or a child. You both want to cram it full of devil-may-care- ness, go from swimsuits to pajamas (the only clothing options for my friend Paula’s boys). For us, it’s grilled cheese sandwiches every day—two pieces of cheese on soft sourdough, buttered on both sides, and slow cooked in a lidded skillet; you can’t take those to school in your lunchbox. There’s mini-amped electric guitar playing on the new deck, a last coat of suntan, some mid-day TV, naps, and a final visible temporary tattoo. A big one.

But it’s not just casual Friday all week. Among the swimming and eating and shredding, we have to finish book reports and summer math; return library books; pick up school supplies; try on every piece of school uniform in the closet; scour this part of the planet for the last remaining khaki pants and white shirts made by French Toast, the knock-off uniform company. And when that fails, as it fails for some items every year, I will have to perform the humiliating task of rummaging through other kids’ hand-me-downs at the Uniform Exchange, before the Ice Cream Social at the school on Thursday night. Because I’m not Catholic, I can get there early, while everyone else is at school mass.

Serena has just returned from counting the items in her closet that she can still wear. Short-sleeved shirts: 1. Shorts: 0. Pants: 0. Long-sleeved shirts: 4.

I take inventory, too. My daughter has grown about an inch this summer. She got her first case of poison ivy. She lost four teeth (which makes fifteen baby teeth lost). She started rock school, has her own electric guitar (a suh-weet Fender Showmaster), and can play about ten songs well, including “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “American Idiot,” and “Surrender.” She learned to do a flip off the diving board. Three large scabs on her nose, from where her face made contact with the bottom of the deep end, remind me that I wasn’t there for her because I was home, working.

Once fifth grade starts next week, I will be waiting all year for that call from school—the one my mother got just after I turned eleven. I thought I came down too hard on the uneven parallel bars and had to show my bloody bloomers to Miss. Brown, the unsympathetic gym teacher, who broke the news to me like a firecracker and sent me to the nurse. My grandmother picked me up from school that day because my mom was at work. We were unprepared, so I spent the hour or so it took my mother to get home in the bathtub, my grandmother sitting on the closed lid of the toilet next to me.

Now that the cinnamon toast has been devoured, a sunny day and a full agenda await. I feel bad for her that it won’t be spent at the pool, storing up practice dives for next year. But Serena pulls through for me. “I know this is gonna sound kind of stupid, but I actually love going to the office supply store.”

And they’re off.

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  1. Cybergabi August 18, 2008 at 2:16 pm #

    I once lost almost half my facial skin in a downhill sled accident on a frozen slope while making contact with a stone bench in a curve. While my mom was at work. Don’t beat yourself up over it. These things just happen. And will heal too.

    And now I’m craving for a grilled cheese sammich…

  2. KinnicChick August 18, 2008 at 4:40 pm #

    I’m craving cinnamon toast!

    That is such a beautiful photo of Serena.

  3. Blanche and Guy August 18, 2008 at 4:42 pm #

    yay! leslie started a blog! or blanche just realized that leslie started a blog only today which is why she is here reading. and she loves what she has read.

    she must be one heckuva diver that serena!

  4. Manisha August 18, 2008 at 6:13 pm #

    I’m waiting for that call, too. It’s going to be very soon. 🙁

    I haven’t yet met a kid who doesn’t like shopping for supplies. Getting a copy of the list from the store to finding each specified item – it’s a treasure hunt! Although this year, we have almost everything and just need to supplement notebooks. But my daughter’s excited about that, too. School starts tomorrow.

    I wish our school had a uniform.

  5. Leslie F. Miller August 18, 2008 at 6:18 pm #

    Oh, Gabi. From a mother: OUCH. I know. I’m actually glad I wasn’t there. Some things I don’t need to see in person. It would only make me want to stop her from being a kid and diving.

    Blanche—yes, I’ve had a different one for a few years, but I started again now that I have a website. Thank you! And Serena tries to give her all to everything.

    kinnickchick, cinnamon toast is bad for you. It’s all sugar. Don’t eat it too often. 😉 (That’s what the mother says.) My daughter hasn’t taken but two ugly pictures.

    manisha, don’t you dread it? I’m with you on the supplies and the uniform. We never have to worry whether the clothes are cool enough. They are all the same. Let their talent shine.

  6. lysandra August 18, 2008 at 9:46 pm #

    Mine started school today, last week was full of the scramble.

    I go back to teaching on Monday and am not ready!!

  7. anniemcq August 19, 2008 at 10:57 am #

    Well, I first fell in love with you looking at your photostream on FLickr, then linked your comment from my dear Suttonhoo, to here, and darn it, now I just wanna be you.

    This is such a fabulous post. Your daughter is gorgeous, and my son (who is seven and loves to rock) would follow her around like a puppy. Enjoy the last days before school starts. I will be doing the same.

  8. M&M's August 20, 2008 at 12:47 am #

    I am glad I am not the only one scrambling to finish that math book!

  9. Leslie F. Miller August 20, 2008 at 12:51 am #

    Lucy, who's ever ready?

    Annnie, you are lovely to say. Thank you for coming, and I have bookmarked you to pop in.

    M&M—is that you, Donna? We are punished tomorrow. Serena hasn't read or finished math, so there's no guitar playing or TV watching or pool until it's all done. Tomorrow. That's right. I'm sticking to my guns. Plus, she has to make the bed.

  10. Rachel August 20, 2008 at 8:41 pm #

    I’ll agree, it’s probably better you weren’t there. 🙂 My cousin did that one summer, diving into a not-that-deep pool. Sure, his nose had a huge scab for weeks, but his pride was more injured. At least Serena was actually diving, instead of just goofing off.

    And I still love school supplies, and sometimes wish I had an excuse to buy them.

  11. YNL August 21, 2008 at 9:30 pm #

    I busted the pajamas-to-swimsuits plan for the week. Shame, I am ashamed. What with all the fucking school supplies, Bob’s car in the shop, and replacing the vanity in the bathroom, we didn’t make it to the pool once.


    Also, god, remind me to tell Juliet’s first period story sometime. It involves her mother’s lace panties, let’s just say.

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