An ode to summer

One of the most precious gifts of parenthood is being reminded of the sun-kissed joys of summertime, writes Sonia Mendes.


Jasper, Alberta, summer 1991

I’ll never forget that feeling of pure exhilaration — a moment of absolute, uninhibited joy — right before I plunged into the cool, crisp water.

It all came rushing back to me as I looked at that old photo, captured back in the summer of 1991.

My mom had been cleaning out her basement in Edmonton and, desperate to reclaim some space, begged me to take some of my childhood mementos back to Ottawa.

Somewhat grudgingly, I sifted through several dusty boxes of long-forgotten toys and old homework assignments. At times I shook my head, wondering what had possessed me to save all this junk.

But that summer photo made me catch my breath. At once, I was 15 again, back on the cliffs of that pristine lake near Jasper, Alberta; a silhouette against the sky as the sun started its descent behind the majestic Rocky Mountains.

Some of the details are hazy. I don’t remember exactly where the lake was, or even who took the photo — it must have been one of my fellow cyclists. That was the summer I cycled between Banff and Jasper with a group of teenagers, my athletic Uncle Menno at the helm.

That was such a thrilling summer adventure. I had worked hard all year, saving my meagre earnings from babysitting and delivering newspapers, to buy myself a brand-new, Norco “Bigfoot” mountain bike.

I recall it was $450 — a hefty price tag for a teen — but I wanted it so badly. I paid every last cent myself, then trained hard to prepare for our weeklong mountain trek.

The moment captured at that Alberta lake — years before digital photography guaranteed the perfect action shot — depicted a sweet reward after a long day of cycling. But it represents more than that; to me, that photo encapsulates summer itself.

Summer evokes so many memories for me. As a child, school’s end marked the start of two months of freedom. I remember waking to the birds chirping and the sun streaming through my bedroom window.

Stretching my scrawny arms and legs, I would wonder — full of anticipation — what the day would bring. Perhaps my friend and I would ride our bikes to our secret fort, nestled under the big pine tree in a park around the corner.

I might try to skim a few quarters off my big brother’s nightstand so I could buy a slurpee from the Mac’s convenience store (in retrospect, I could have just asked — he never could be bothered with coins).

As adults, we lose a bit of that summer magic. Carefree days are overtaken by the realities of family responsibilities and home maintenance; the winter tires need to be switched out, the garage is a mess and the lawn is a sea of dandelions.

It looks like the backyard deck project is going to cost more than initially thought, and how are we going to pay for both kids to attend summer camp, anyway?

But one of the gifts of parenthood is being able to recapture that sun-kissed freedom. I feel it when our six-year-old breathlessly sets a new record on the monkey bars (“Mommy! 30 rungs in a row!”), and I see it in her smile as her bat makes contact with the ball in her first-ever baseball game.

I taste it when my nine-year-old enthusiastically helps me make a batch of homemade watermelon juice, and proudly hands me a rosy glassful.

Whether the summer plans include a major trip (one that’s long been dreamed about and saved for) or just relaxing around home, it’s a welcome break from the monotony of the school year.

The mercury’s steady rise in the thermometer promises relief from being housebound; it’s an opportunity to dust off that neglected tennis racquet and head outside to play the real game, instead of being tethered to the Wii remote with simulated, indoor activities.

For these summer blessings — after a seemingly eternal Canadian winter — I will be ever thankful. When the kids come rushing in, spilling sand in the foyer as they kick off their sweaty sandals, I will pause to smell the scent of the wind tangled in their hair.

For that moment I will breathe it in, these fleeting summer moments, and allow time to stand still. And for just an instant, I’m that little girl again; bursting out the front door, with flyaway, white-blonde hair, eyes sparkling as she looks to discover her next summer adventure.