On Balance Palm trees against an orange sunset

Published on August 23rd, 2023 | by Cheryl Klein


Late Summer Lament: Unemployment, Wasted Time, and a Hurriquake

Late summer was when the kids on my block finally started playing together. We gathered on the turnaround island at the end of our cul de sac, a circle of eucalyptus trees and shrubs and dirt enclosed by a curb. Sometimes we dug holes. Sometimes we left our bikes on the island and got scolded by our old grouchy neighbor, ironically named Mr. Rogers.

We played tag and hide-and-seek—games I found stressful, because I didn’t really like running or suspense, but I wanted to win. In late summer, I leaned into the latter impulse. 

Sometimes we hopped the low cinderblock wall in the Houtermans’ yard, and found ourselves in the parking lot of the Mormon church. It was a windowless, 1950s-style building with a stone facade and a steep roof pointing up to the heavens. The paved ramp behind the church was perfect for coasting down on a bike or roller skates. 

My mom, who had lived in a different neighborhood almost every year of her childhood, loved our little community of children, which blossomed like a fairy circle of toadstools each season. But she was perplexed by why we hadn’t started all this wholesome business two months earlier.


I couldn’t explain it then or now. I always want time to slow down, and yet—especially coming off an anxious year—I often feel like I’m waiting for some bit of news that will tell me what kind of life I’m living, and I hate waiting. In the middle of last summer, we brought a preemie from a NICU in Richmond, Virginia, to our home in Los Angeles, and I feel like I’m still waiting to find out if he’s okay, whatever that means. 

At the beginning of this summer, I was laid off from the nonprofit where I’d worked for five years. Budget cuts. I’m waiting to hear back from a half dozen jobs. The baby is still in daycare part time, because we don’t want to lose our spot. So I’m like a stay-at-home mom but without the street cred. It’s like a quarantine of one, or two on the days when it’s me and him, rolling a ball back and forth, crying (sometimes both of us, sometimes one of us).

Time drips and nags, slithers away like the egg yolk I drop on the floorboards one morning. I sweat in the same clothes I wore yesterday. I try to hibernate under the covers, to make time stop and to make it go faster. I fall asleep and wake up feeling disoriented and separate from the world of people who are running late for meetings.

Marquis of Vidiots theater says "Coming Soon 9 to 5"


Third grade starts for my oldest. My feeds flood with first-day pictures and parental laments about time and where it has gone. None of us seem to know. The kids I first met as ultrasound pictures when I was an angry, infertile non-mom twelve years ago are tweens now. They have phones and travel-soccer and eating disorders. 

I worry about what awaits my kids around the bend of time. I mentioned something to my partner about fentanyl—which killed two kids at a high school in our city last year—and she said, “Oh, by the time our kids are old enough to be around drugs, it’ll be a different drug.”

I was not reassured.

And yet I envy these people with older kids. Two years ago, I would have killed for time and for a baby, and now I have both, but having a baby is a lot like having no time at all, or it is like watching time unfold right in front of you, but you can’t grab it, because you’re holding a baby.

The old me said a lot of things about the capitalistic, ableist evils of rise-and-grind culture, but I also rose and ground. Maybe I loved the game of it: How much can I fit in a day? Like one of those tangram puzzles: If I arrange these shapes just right, they will form a bird.

Now the puzzle pieces have melted. Instead of a bird, I have a glob.

Parents walk children to first day of school

I am not using this time to reattach the cupboard doors that fell off their hinges in our kitchen. Instead, I’m becoming unhinged. I am not using this time to write the novel I started a lifetime ago. Instead, I’m telling myself dark tales about a middle-aged woman whose identity was replaced by Chat GPT and dirty diapers.

I’ve never been a night owl, but late nights become my late summer. A bit of time left to burn. Everyone asleep (though I’m waiting, already, for the baby to wake up). Nothing really counts. I watch things that begin with the word Murder and eat food I’m not hungry for, just to sink my teeth into something.


A hurricane is set to hit Los Angeles, although it will be downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it makes landfall. On Instagram, I look at historical photos from the last time a tropical storm battered the Southern California coastline, in 1939. Frozen in black and white, giant vertical waves look like a barricade of trees about to fall on a row of humble beach houses. When the sun comes out, the beach houses have been brought to their knees.

Climate change was a thing that was going to happen, and now it is happening. 

I applied for a job at an environmental organization, but I haven’t heard back yet.

I believe in being a steward of the earth, but when our refrigerator breaks down, I waste boxes of thawed fish sticks and chicken nuggets. I whisper apologies as I toss them in the trash.

Inside of a freezer

I applied for a job at a vegan animal welfare organization, but I didn’t get it. I resumed my pescatarianism out of spite.

The sludge at the bottom of the freezer is a time capsule: An old boli that could have been from this summer or last, a slushy pond of melted purple popsicle, a clip that fell off a bag of peas.

I scrub and declutter and feel for the first time in weeks like I am doing…something.


Elsewhere, water overtakes highways and mud flows like lava. But here, the hurricane is anticlimactic and confusing. The city is drenched in water and—with little wind or damage—a sense of cockiness. An earthquake hits the county to the north. I don’t feel it, but the internet explodes with #hurriquake memes.

Winter rain depresses me, even though—or because—my personality is more Seattle than Los Angeles. But summer rain, with its balmy air and pungent petrichor, feels like a vacation to the tropics. Now, and forever after, I suppose, it also takes me back to our not-vacation to Richmond, Virginia, last summer, where we adopted the baby and limped through COVID, and the steamy sky broke open every afternoon.

The school district leaves a half dozen messages assuring us that schools will be open and safe on Monday. 

In the mid-afternoon, they leave a half dozen more, saying that schools will be closed.

On Monday, it doesn’t even rain. The sun dries puddles and my kids and I sweat on the patio of a play place. The hurricane shrivels to a strange late-summer memory, the kind that feels half-imagined, because in this case it is.

An 8-year-old with a blue hat plays with a 1-year-old at a train table

My oldest is too old for sand toys and doll houses, and asks if we can leave, or if he can play Roblox on my phone. Next thing I know, my phone has fallen among the cushions he’s using to build a tower with a couple of six-year-olds. Then he wants to leave again. Then he doesn’t. 

A smattering of first-round interview requests fill up my inbox. Like the sun coming out, a job seems possible again, almost inevitable. I want to go back to work, to embrace the fall with a new wardrobe of respectable dark colors. I want a to-do list and the time to check off each thing on it, not a minute more or a minute less. At the end of the most boring day, I want to be able to say, “But I helped people go to college/get mental health care/stay out of prison.”

And also: I want none of it. I want to keep standing outside of time, stewing in my own moods and pretending it’s because I’ve rejected capitalism, not that it’s rejected me. I want to eat popsicles and inhale hurricane air. I hate this time, and I will miss it.

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About the Author

Cheryl Klein’s column, “Hold it Lightly,” appears monthly(ish) in MUTHA. She is the author of Crybaby (out in 2022 from Brown Paper Press), a memoir about wanting a baby and getting cancer instead. She also wrote a story collection, The Commuters (City Works Press) and a novel, Lilac Mines (Manic D Press). Her stories and essays have appeared in Blunderbuss, The Normal School, Razorcake, Literary Mama, and several anthologies. Her MUTHA column “Onesie, Never Worn” was selected as a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2022. She blogs about the intersection of art, life and carbohydrates at breadandbread.blogspot.com. Follow her on Twitter: @cherylekleinla.

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