Suzanne Tobias

Summer passes with things still on to-do list

Every spring, I tell myself it’s not going to happen.

My family won’t get to the finish line of summer vacation, the start of yet another school year, and realize we have unfinished items on our summer to-do list.

And then, every fall, it happens.

We’re not talking about painting the bathroom or correctly guessing the winner of “The Next Food Network Star,” because those things get done, no problem. (Especially the winner of that particular cooking show – and “MasterChef” as well, although the finale is still a few weeks away and we’re still torn between Jessie and Natasha.)

I’m talking about things like picnics, sleepovers, museum trips and baseball games, which seem so easy when the summer is stretching out in front of you – Oh sure, we’ll get to that! We have months! – but somehow insurmountable as you round the corner of July and August, pushing a shopping cart full of notebook paper and index cards.

When school starts, you’re back to the early-morning routine. Afternoons fill with homework. Evenings fill with music lessons and swim practice. Everyone’s just a little more grumbly, a lot more occupied.

My son’s birthday falls in early August, after our teacher friends report back to work but before the school year starts. This year Jack turned 13 – which means I have two teenagers in the house, bless my heart – and his birthday party was predictably thrown together at the last minute, invitations sent by text to his friends or their parents.

I used to spend months planning the kids’ parties. Jack’s second birthday was a cowboy extravaganza featuring handmade invitations, beans ’n’ franks served on tin pie plates, hats and boots, lots of bandanas, panning for fake gold in a front-yard sandbox and countless rides on a pony named Cinnamon.

It’s too bad all he remembers is the root beer.

Now life’s on fast-forward. It’s been more than a decade since those pony rides.

Another summer gone. Whoooosh. Just like that.

Our summer to-do list once again mocks me from its spot on the fridge. Instead of marveling at all that we accomplished, including our family’s first-ever fishing trip, I stare at the list and can’t believe the ones that got away.

One in particular seems an unforgivable oversight: “Finger painting with Natalie.”

My daughter’s friend says she has never used finger paints, which I find a little hard to believe, but she swears it’s true. During one car ride home from high school last spring, I assured her we would fill that void in her life.

“This summer,” I said, “you’re coming over to finger paint.”

“Yes!” she said, and my daughter nodded enthusiastically.

They may even have high-fived, envisioning page after page filled with gooey color, their hands awash in cool greens and blues, a glorious return to childhood at a time when they both were stressed about their World History exam.

We never set a date. We should have. Because June flew past, and then July. Natalie went out of town, and then we did.

Had I put it on the calendar, along with all the haircuts and dental appointments, we may have had a shot. Now I’m standing in front of our kitchen calendar with a handful of class syllabi, jotting down commitments through May 2014.

I glance again at the list on the fridge, look back at the calendar, grab my rainbow of Sharpies and add one more thing, on a random Saturday:

“Finger painting with Natalie.”

You have to make time for the important stuff.