There were kids who spent their summers vacationing, as in, left their perfectly good homes to swim in oceans adjacent to rented seaside cottages or walked for days amongst Disney characters and acrobatic dolphins. They rode bikes in Nantucket and camped in Yellowstone Park. They boarded airplanes and handed passports to officials in Spain and Paris and, for one lucky kid in the fourth grade, Brazil.
Me? I spent the summer at my Grandparents' Farm. They lived on the edge of town. We saw them every Sunday. And holidays. This was the exact opposite of vacationing. My mother would wake us at some ungodly hour and we'd drag our tired bodies to the car. I hated it. It was too early. It was too boring. It was completely unfair that I had to help scrape manure off a barn floor when kids my age were being handed twenty dollar bills by their fathers to go get ice cream down by some wharf.
We'd drive to Grandma's house where she'd be frying up eggs in a skillet, making toast to spread cinnamon and brown sugar on. After breakfast there would be chores down at the barn. Five pounds of potatoes were peeled starting around 10:00am. After lunch we swept floors and washed dishes in water so hot it made the skin on our hands melt.
I spent my summers sweeping the concrete patio out back, suffering through episodes of Wheel of Fortune, wondering why everything in my life was so blasted unfair.
And yet, those summers would prove to be the foundation for who I am today. I learned how to coax a baby calf to take a bottle. I learned to stack hay bales as tall as the sky without them falling down. I learned to take pride in the things you did and in the things you had. I learned (and was completely confused by) my grandfather's words that he didn't need a single additional thing in life; that he had everything he ever needed and it was more than enough.
I learned how to treat people who spent their days working for you: you treated them like family even if they weren't. I learned that the sun never rises in the exact same way as any of the days before and it never, ever would, and that's what makes getting up early in the morning so important: because you risk missing a once in a lifetime event every single day. I learned that there is comfort in tradition: especially when it comes in the simple form of a peanut butter sandwich at 4pm.
I look back now and think of all the fun I had in between the work. The sweltering summer days when older cousins playfully dunked younger ones in stock tanks. The singing at the top of our lungs while sitting on a cattle gate and pretending we were pioneers the day we discovered the old horse-drawn carriage in the back barn.
I wouldn't trade those summers for the world.
The truth is, I would not have the values I have today if I didn't go through those summers. As much as I dreaded those unfair summers at the time, I look back and realize how necessary they were for me. That prancing through the manicured lawns of a theme park would never have provided what I personally needed to make me, me.
There is no way to compare the death of a child to summers on a farm, and yet... what if this is somehow an unfair season I have to go through to continue making me into who I'm supposed to be? Who we're all supposed to be? Sometimes, in the midst of the unfairness and the awfulness we learn how to be who we were meant to become.