And today, the whirr of the cicadas has sent me in search of the exact pattern of the veins on the wings. They’re beautiful and spare.
My Papa taught me to say the name of this insect: “chi-CAH-dah”. That crescendo-vibrato buzz, when I was smaller, signaled that summer had to end soon. I dreaded the beginning of each new school year, with the same thirty kids I’d known since second grade.
I loved learning, but School was a nightmare. My teachers loved me, but the students didn’t at all. After fourth grade and being placed in a gifted class, my social experiences took a nosedive. As the only one pulled out for the most amazing (to me) chance to learn logic, and higher math, and creative problem-solving, I had a target on my back. The nice girls avoided me to avoid their own punishment for being seen with the freak, and the not-nice girls punished me for raising my hand in class after long, long pauses of frustrated teachers. If I’d kept my hand down, the teacher would have re-done part of the lecture to help us understand, instead of making the class lose recess for daydreaming in class.
I was the lucky one who daydreamed my way through every minute of every day, with half an eye on the chalkboard and half an ear to the lesson, who had the answers for the pop quiz despite plotting ways to make a kiln in the back yard without getting in trouble for playing with mud AND fire. Mud was okay, but the concentrated blast of heat for baking mud into little effigies took some slyness and an accomplice in the form of my Papa. He had coal oil and bricks, and the tin match box in the shed stayed magically full. He could claim the cloud of smoke as his own, while I wrapped my clay rabbits and mother figures in bundles of straw and threw them in with the fallen branches to make them last longer than even Papa.
The mud and the fire and the soot and smoke taught me more than the words half-heard while I stared out the window and waited for 3:08 p.m.
My grandma taught me that every day should be appreciated as one of the good old days. Yes, even when things seem to be crappier than you thought possible, and summer is almost over, and you have to come in earlier because the street lights come on earlier and the cicadas sing Autumn is Coming and You Will Have To Wear Shoes Again Soon. Some of those days were really very bad, but most of them were lovely, and she was mostly right.
In a week and a half, my small person will go back to school in a new place for her bump up to third grade. New building, bigger, much much more to navigate. She has rebelled against planned activity this summer. She wanted to run wild with her friends in this little neighborhood, with her own back yard to dig up. She wanted me home, to make lunch, and to tuck her in for an afternoon nap now and then. I couldn’t do it this year, but she’s already plotting next summer’s arrangements. She’s looking forward to school like I never did, but she is made of different stuff than I was. Am.
We both want summer to last forever, school or no school. We listen to the cicadas and yell over the roar when we sit in the back yard, and wonder what makes them go so suddenly silent each night.
Cicadas and August and the end of overabundant chances to wonder make us both a little blue. Skirts feel better on the legs than jeans. Flip-flops feel better than sneakers any day. Warm air and a little too much sun win out over chill gray, and bike rides didn’t happen often enough. Kids on buses are always kind of unpleasant, so we’ll ride bikes to school just a few blocks away.
My job, like the job of the big people who made me Me, is to bounce us past the blue and into a version of Good Old Days Now.
This fall, when the days get too short for my wellbeing, I’ll shock myself back into gratitude with a pair of temporarily painful permanent cicada wings on my shoulders, another symbol of freedom and perseverance and change.
That seems inevitable, but I could change my mind. Life is long, and it’s only August.