Why Summer Scares Me

'Tis the season for recklessness

One summer years ago, I was vacationing with my husband Doug and our two kids, who then were maybe five and eight, in the mountains of West Virginia. We were out for a hike when we came across a vast, flat outcrop of rock topping a ridge. “Come on!” my husband shouted, jumping onto the rock and starting across it to the far edge, which looked out over a gorge a hundred feet below.

“Get back here!” I screeched at the kids, grabbing them by their shirts.

Doug stared at me. “What’s your problem?”

“What if they fall?”

“They won’t fall,” he scoffed, and beckoned to them. “Come on! You should see the view!”

I watched in terror as the three of them scrambled over the ledge. I knew these kids. They sometimes tripped over lint. It was fine, fine by me if Doug wanted to fall off that rock and kill himself, but dammit, how dare he risk our offspring?

It’s been like that all along. When it was time to teach the kids to swim, I took them to baby classes at the Y; Doug tossed them off his shoulders into the ocean. When, with school out, we had time to teach them to drive, I took them to parking lots and sat, fists balled and heart thumping, while they parallel-parked; Doug turned them loose on the Schuylkill Expressway. When they each, in turn, headed off to Europe for a few weeks, I made sure they had euros and credit cards and the number of the U.S. Embassy in every nation they were visiting; Doug suggested they sample the local beers.

Maybe it’s always that way, one parent more fearful than the other. Maybe we make each other that way—I e-mail the kids links to stories on the perils of Facebook and on-line banking, Doug reacts to my timidity by pushing them further out on the ledge. Maybe the dichotomy arises out of different definitions of love—mine that it’s something that holds you close, Doug’s that it’s something that trains you to fly. Whatever the cause, by now our contrary roles are as solid as that granite outcropping in the West Virginia hills.

We’ll have both kids home from college for the summer. There will be driving late at night, and parties, and friends I don’t know. In August, when we visit Ocean City, Doug will take the kids on the Ferris wheel at Wonderland Pier, the great big one you can see from way off in the distance. I’ll stand in the crowd below and watch as they purposefully rock their car back and forth in the sky, just because they know it makes me crazy-scared. I’ll worry: Don’t they understand how dangerous the world is? They’ll laugh: Don’t I understand how fun dangerous can be?