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I Thought Summer Was a Break
Grasping with the reality that summer is just a different kind of busy
In Accepting the Unexpected, I step away from writing about travel to comment on the bigger journey of life. While the topics may vary, the central theme is always the same: living life means learning to deal with the unexpected.
I stood in line at Chick-fil-a waiting for our lunch, my kids asking me questions about what we still needed to do for the day. It was our son’s birthday and he was excited about our evening plans to travel two hours each way to Fort Wayne to attend a baseball game for my husband’s company picnic. He wanted me to sit and watch a movie with him when we got back, but I just looked at him and said, “Honey, I’m sorry, but if we’re going to be gone tonight, I just have too much to do this afternoon.”
A couple of minutes later, still waiting for our food, my almost high school daughter asked, “What all do we have to do?” Both anxious about the summer school work that she has to do to get a head start on early college classes in the fall and eager for reasons to not complete the work, she was trying to figure out what other errands I was going to drag them on before we headed home.
“Maybe it would be more accurate to say that I have a lot to do this afternoon.” And I did. And I have a lot on my list for today. And so go the realities of summer “vacation” for parents everywhere.
I’ve never known summer to be anything other than a “break.”
While my dad spent most of my childhood vacillating between teaching and administrative ministry roles, my parents always prioritized traveling as a family during the summer months. First, my dad could more easily take time off during the summer months because his duties were more flexible during the summers. Second, we often lived far away from family, which meant that my parents wanted to spend our summers visiting their siblings and parents whenever possible.
When we weren’t traveling, my childhood summers were spent playing outside for hours with my neighborhood friends, and then aimless wandering with my pre-teen friends, and then being lazy with my teenage friends. Some structured time was spent at camp during a few summers, but otherwise I filled my time getting as many summer reading program points as possible. From the summer before my freshman year all the way through high school, I spent at least two weeks traveling and participating in youth ministry events. By the end of my junior year of high school, summers also meant working as many hours a week as possible, a practice that lasted me all the way through college.
Oh, and then there were the two summers that my parents spent packing up our family and moving to new states.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that my summers have always been packed with something.
But yesterday, as I tried to explain to my kids that I actually did have things to do even though I haven’t worked in two-and-a-half weeks, it finally hit me just how much I try to pack into the eight weeks that I have off every summer.
As a 21-year teaching veteran, I know that my summers have always looked a little different from the rest of the population, something that my dear IT director husband tries to frequently remind me of every time I try to plan a family vacation for longer than two weeks.
But that doesn’t mean that my summers haven’t been busy.
Before we had kids, my summers were packed with teaching summer school, reorganizing the theater department, and taking summer classes myself. Even after we had kids, my summer school work included attending workshops and taking summer classes. And in twenty-one years of marriage, we have spent five of those summers moving, four of those moves being to completely new cities.
Now that the graduate school years are behind me (I think) and I’ve learned to set better work boundaries, I’ve packed my summers with other things.1 I’ve always needed my summers to make appointments and now I have to manage the appointments of two other humans and two dogs that have two months to fit everything in as well. Jeff has always rightfully waited on things like car maintenance and other home improvement projects for the summer months. In the last two weeks I’ve sat in auto shops while getting the oil changed and new tires for the truck. I’ve worked on building the new buffet for our dining area and I hope to clean up the front flower bed before the end of the summer. (Last summer it was building a wall.)
And then there are the personal goals outside of responsibilities and our planned vacation to Orlando in July: Finish my book, build up my store of freelance writing, get enough written here on Substack that I can schedule out through September and not have to worry about the start of the school year and writing, create a few photo books, try to start the school year with a clean house, etc. And I add to that list every day.
I think that fellow Substackercaptured it with this comment on the thread I posted yesterday:
I think we try to stuff so much into the down time built into our schedules because we have so much we never got the chance to do during the “on-time”. And, we feel like we SHOULD. Wouldn’t we be lazy or missing out on vital experiences if we just sat around and read a book by the pool? That won’t do.
A few months into the pandemic, I wrote about how COVID had forced us to slow down. That temporary stop appears to have disappeared as I look at our summer, which we just keep adding stuff to. But then I am grateful for the scheduled time that I still have with my kids, who most days are content to play video games and hide away from us in their rooms during the time off from school. I’m grateful for nights like last night, when they willingly spent four hours on the road so we could sit at a baseball game for three hours and just enjoy each other’s company.
And I’m going to cling to the promise of Sarah Lavender Smith ofwho commented on the same thread that for her, now that her kids are grown, “summer feels more like downtime.”
But for now, I’m just going to be happy for the hour or so in the morning that I get to write uninterrupted before heading out for a run, embracing the little bit of extra time that summer gives me for myself.
Order my new book!
I’ve written a memoir collection of essays based on several of my blog posts from the past seven years. A couple of the above essays can be found in this very book. It is available for purchase on Amazon.com.
And if you do purchase, please give it a favorable review on Amazon and Goodreads, or any other book tracking app that you might use.
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I did go into work two weeks ago to start planning for the upcoming year as I work with a new teaching partner to transition her AP Language course to a Dual Credit/AP Language course. But thankfully, I work for a district that pays for that work outside of contract time.