“Push, push, glide. Push, push, glide,” chants Shena Lovick, encouraging her young cousin by making instruction a song. Summer Mewborn is 7 years old and is riding her two-wheel scooter for the first time. She wears new boots with faux-fur linings and a new purple coat with a hood. It was a good Christmas, she says.
It is the Wednesday after New Year’s Day, and they are on North Trent Road, which rarely sees traffic. Summer’s mom, Lashawnna, and 3-year-old brother, J.J., are watching from the porch of their home. After Hurricane Irene came through in 2011, it was gutted and raised high on wooden posts. The midday sun is exacting, desaturating the pine trees and buildings with a pale blue cast.
“I like that, Sum,” Lashawnna says. Their home is new but also old. Lashawnna grew up here with her grandmother and mother. She moved away from the county six years ago, but after separating from her husband, Summer’s and J.J.’s father, she has returned to raise her own children here.
Summer bites her lip in concentration. She looks up through thick pink-rimmed glasses and smiles at her mom. “Push, push, glide,” Summer says to herself. She rides fast, back and forth, in short spurts.
This is the first time she has lived somewhere where she can do something like scooter down the road without worrying about traffic, Lashawnna tells me. Today, the other kids in the county are in school, but Summer commutes to Bridgeton, 30 minutes away. Bridgeton students don’t return to school from winter vacation until the 11th.
“I wanted her to finish the year in one school,” Lashawnna says. “She is has moved schools three times in past three years.” The children’s father is in the Navy, which meant the whole family relocated often.
Lashawnna is assembling a new scooter that J.J. got for Christmas. She can’t get the pieces or his helmet free from its boxes and plastic ties fast enough to keep him happy. He wants to join his sister.
On the road, Summer stops to catch her breath. Then, she climbs the porch to go inside and brings out a notepad.
“For my birthday, I want a million notepads,” she says. Her birthday is April 19. She tells her mom that she is an artist.
“It’s funny,” her mom tells me. “Growing up you can’t wait to get away. Now, I’m so grateful to be back. This is peace and quiet. We know everyone and there is always family around. You feel safe. The kids have never had a yard. Can you imagine?”
Summer is now down below, throwing rocks in the ditch alongside the road.
“She loves watching the tadpoles there,” Lashawnna says. Summer finds old pieces of countertop—possibly the one that was in the house when Lashawnna was a child. Summer sets the pieces on top of her notepad to add to her rock collection.
Lashawnna says being a single mom is difficult. “But being married to someone in the military gave me lots of practice. He was always gone.”
Summer grabs her scooter and goes back out to the road. She has mastered a smooth U-turn.
“Push, push, glide,” her aunt repeats. “Push, push, glide.”
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