You know those swings at the carnival that spin around in mad, sickening circles? You get going so fast that you levitate and you fear, because of some basic laws of physics, that the chains will break and you’ll be hurled off in a straight line to the next county. But you never do. You remain somehow preserved in the rush of that circle, round and round and round. This is how things are.
Summer, as it did last year and the year before it, came again. Spring, if it had a mind to, could just as well launch us into some scary and unknown season, but it, dependably, never fails to slide seamlessly into summer. And with it, summer vacation, the sun, pools and the repetition of contradictory days, boring, fun—days that last forever and end in a blink.
Before this summer, I had met my girlfriend’s kids several times and she had met mine, but this summer brought a whole new experiment. We would for 3 days become a group of 6, going to the Field Museum in Chicago, Lincoln Park Zoo, Navy Pier, and kayaking. What could go wrong except everything?
So, we all wondered in the privacy of ourselves, how is this going to work? One thing is certain. The idea, the prospect of this meeting as an event that loomed in the future, was terrible for all of us. My girlfriend and I were of course concerned about the psychic well-being of our children. I mean, we’re firmly established as crazy in love but how fair is this to the kids? We’re lovers. We’re parents. But now these roles were about to collide into some undefined something and would they be okay? Would they like each other? Are they predisposed to despise each other? Even at the zoo? And even though the kids expressed a willingness to do this, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to surmise that, for them, this whole idea was icky and weird and confusing. The kids they were each about to meet: Who were they exactly in relation to them? I imagined them wondering Will I like them? and, of course, the question that never ceases to haunt us all: Will they like me?
But, as usual, nothing happened that resembled the hopes or fears the 6 of us brought to Chicago. It’s always something else, or maybe, in its own tricky way, it’s always all of it. Meeting new people is as predictable as the seasons. Nervous strangers slip into people with whom you are suddenly laughing and using chalk to draw pictures on the driveway.
At Navy Pier, we bought a 10-Ride Family Pass (awkward). All 6 of us rode the Ferris Wheel, around and around. From way up there, from that perspective, you can see the whole city and the very same city you spent the day walking through is now different and new. With only 4 tickets left, the kids ran toward the spinning swings. My girlfriend and I sat next to a fountain, waiting for them as they stood in the hot sun and long line. It was the first time our kids were gone, together. “I think we’re doing a pretty good job,” she said. I thought so too. The sky was so blue you might cry.
When we finally saw our kids running toward the ride, they had the option to sit in a single swing or a swing built for two. Our two young girls, 10 and 11, sat in a swing for couples. As it began its slow rotation, they looked nervous and by the time it was circling full speed, they were screaming with big frightened eyes. Their initial shrieks appeared to be genuine howls of terror but somewhere in the spinning, in that elusive seamless seam, the screams—like spring sliding into summer—became laughter, though it sounded much the same.
Photo credit: Instagram @mhook